I went to see the new film version of the musical Les Miserables on a Boxing Day outing with family members of various ages and different degrees of familiarity with the show. One of us loved the musical so much she literally (and I do mean literally) had it memorized word for word. I’d never seen it and have always disliked the thumping music and standard, soppy lyrics — though (as you might guess) I’ve read the novel.
The results: the younger folks tended not to like the film because of the bad and auto-tuned singing and because of Tom Hooper’s ham-handed, close-up-heavy direction. My wife and I liked it. It’s sentimental and overblown but, as we both remarked, at least it deals with issues of importance: faith, grace, justice, the experience of God through love. Obviously, old Vic Hugo brought these themes — and the rollicking, compelling story — to the table, but the musical doesn’t sweep them aside and they are dealt with honestly and entertainingly throughout. Also, I confess I liked the songs much better when I saw them in context.
Acting-wise, Anne Hathaway steals it. She basically gives an acting class on how to deliver a screen performance of a stage part. I liked Russell Crowe, auto-tuned though he was — but a lot of our party hated him. We all agreed that Hugh Jackman, whom I generally like, was miscast and couldn’t handle the soft tenor singing. Samantha Barks, a third place finisher in some British music contest or other, was also a standout: good actress, adorable to look at and with a strong, pop voice.
In sum: a sentimental, entertaining old-fashioned movie musical that brings Hugo’s classic story to musical life.