Since the London and New York premieres have officially kicked off the promotional blitz, I thought I would share some reactions to my sneak peek of Les Misérables.*
Note: This in no way constitutes a review, not at all.
And, if there is anyone left who can be spoiled for the story of one of the greatest novels and most popular musicals ever, I guess stop reading?
Since my very first exposure to this musical was one of my college roommates listening endlessly to the soundtrack, I would not say I have been a longtime fan of the show. However, when I learned it was first composed in French, I decided to explore that version and bought the original French concept album that had inspired Cameron Mackintosh to produce an English-language version. Ultimately, I grew quite fond of the show itself and finally saw it live sometime after college.
Still, the film wasn’t really on my radar and I even hesitated when I got the invitation to the screening. Boy, am I glad I went, because I really enjoyed it. [Side note: I also realized that I know the show extremely well for not really considering myself a fan. It was hard at times not to sing along, especially during the stirring crowd scenes.]
This is not your mother’s Les Misérables. It is raw, and it is intimate. The entire cast is live singing, so if you are used to the musical, you may need to adjust your expectations. These are not opera and Broadway professionals creating a perfect track in a studio to act to on camera: the singing was done on set, in continuous takes, and there was almost no ADR. With multiple full takes throughout the day, there is not much “power singing” here. During their numbers, the actors had earpieces feeding them piano accompaniment, which were digitally removed in post-production. The sound design alone for this film was pretty frakking incredible.
So, if you are someone who watched the trailer with Anne Hathaway and thinks it sounds awful? Trust me, it all works in context. Her descent as Fantine is brutal. Her part may be small, but the emotional impact is huge. In fact, you should definitely bring Kleenex to the theater. I think I had four or five serious cry points, and I don’t mean allergies, the whole last part is one long bawl fest. Even Marius falls apart during his number.
Are there weak spots? Sure. For me, it was Amanda Seyfried. Older Cosette is such a non-part that I feel she could have easily been replaced by a stronger singer. On the other hand, although Russell Crowe can’t really hold a note to save his life, he worked for me because acting-wise he was Javert personified. Plus, I am used to this Javert, so Crowe’s rock-talk version didn’t bother me.
Sometimes the camera gets a little too swooping for my taste, notably in the opening and in the Paris rooftop scenes, but I think this film basically gets it right. In fact, seeing it play out on screen has actually inspired me to take on Hugo’s novel next year. The first time I tried, “Waterloo” (or, the notoriously detailed first book of the second volume) turned out to be my Waterloo.
Random Accolades and Admonitions
Young Cosette kicks serious ass. As does Gavroche. Child actors often don’t work well at all, but that is not the case here. Fear not the little children, they will plague neither you nor me.
The makeup team deserves serious props. The huddled masses yearning to be free look amazing. I imagine this film will pick up plenty of Oscar nominations; this group should certainly be one of them.
The Thénardiers were more humorous than menacing, but, given that they were played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, I was sort of expecting that.
Eddie Redmayne stood out among the “non-singing” actors, delivering a compelling performance all while looking completely adorkable…
Except in the sewers. The sewers were a bit much.
Even though nothing beats this version, I liked how they staged the “Confrontation” between Jean Valjean and Javert.
The butterfly during “A Heart Full of Love” drove me crazy. It just looked so fake.
Samantha Barks, who plays Éponine, and who played her for some time in the West End, was absolutely fantastic in her first movie role.
Finally, props to Anne Hathaway, who leaves it all (her vanity first and foremost) on the floor. On the floor.
Les Misérables opens Christmas Day. Buy. Your. Tickets.
*A big thank you to my favorite film critic for the invitation.