Finally getting some of the nominated films on DVD so got to watch LES MISERABLES tonight with my fifteen-year-old and we both ended up teary eyed. I'm happy he has his father's sentimental heart. A lot of people I know just don't get musicals. When actors start singing these folks get confused or detached or bored or annoyed, etc.
But for me, almost any musical is worth watching. Not just for the melodies and lyrics, and usually dance, some of which are the best every created (I could rattle off a dozen examples, but if you like musicals you already know them and if you don't it would be meaningless).
I knew the story of LES MISERABLES from the Victor Hugo novel, or rather a translation, read when I was young, and from the two non-musical Hollywood movies made from it. Each has it's variations. The musical— or at least this movie version, since I haven't seen the stage version—uses the device of the innkeepers and their daughter to unify the plot in ways I don't remember from the book or other movies, but it gives an opportunity for Sacha Baron Cohen and Helen Bonham Carter to pull off some Brechtian stage business that in anything but a musical would be scenery chomping.
I had heard a lot of disappointment in the casting of Russell Crowe as Javert, a role maximized in black and white by Charles Laughton in an early Hollywood version. People said Crowe couldn't sing and got the character wrong. I beg to disagree. I thought his lack of Broadway belting power was more than appropriate for his character and in fact enhanced the reality of what could easily be a caricature.
The big news with this film was the revolutionary technique the director Tom Hooper came up with (best known for THE KINGS SPEECH) to mic the actors and record live on the set rather than the usual lip synching and studio cast recording done in movie musicals up to this one. Some have complained that it diminished the power of the singing, but I thought it was brilliant, blending the amazing acting and singing chops of Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean and Anne Hathaway as Fantine, to give the most brilliant examples.
There were a lot of pleasant surprises for me in the film as well, like Amanda Seyfriend as the older Cossette hitting some lovely soft tones and high notes, and Samantha Barks as Eponine. Though the actor who almost stole the film was a little boy who was perfect but whose name I can't find or figure which one it is on the cast list (help here is welcome).
I can certainly see why the Golden Globes honored Jackman and Hathaway. Jackman's accomplishment was nothing short of monumental. And Hathaway's was courageous and definitive (which as we all now know wasn't easy as she had seen her mother perform the role on stage when Anne was a little girl). I could see someone getting a little tired of the movie in a few spots, and as a writer I would have utilized some different scenes from the original story and cut a few added here, but in the end it was a wonderfully satisfying movie experience for this musical lover, and is now my fifteen-year-old's favorite after SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK.