I am a huge musical theater fan. My musical theater obsession peaked in the early-mid 90's, during high school, when I spent a majority of my allowance on obscure cast recordings and show tickets. This obsession has waned considerably, but I still love great musicals and hold a particular fondness for shows that I loved as a teenager. Les Miserables was one of these shows.
I've seen three National Tours of Les Mis. I've owned multiple cast recordings, multiple tee-shirts, a mug, a production book, a music box and as I am writing this post, I am overlooked by my full cast autographed Broadway Cares poster.
All this said, I was excited to see the movie version of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg's musical.
I walked out of AMC Burbank with an overwhelming sense of "That was just okay" and that it really was unnecessary. There isn't a lot of faults with the movie, it just wasn't as good as seeing it on stage, a lot gets lost in the movie format.
Confession time, I loathe most movie musicals, especially ones that are not intentionally campy. Campy is great and usually works. I have a hard time taking serious musicals seriously in a close- up format. I need the distance of the stage. Tom Hooper's choice of using extreme close-ups drove me batty. Occasionally it worked, especially with Anne Hathaway singing, I Dreamed A Dream, but he used it so much, that it started to feel like a gimmick and was distracting.
Probably the biggest reason to go see the movie version, is the cast. The critics have not oversold Hathaway, she is fantastic. Eddie Redmayne was a standout as Marius and Sacha Baron Cohen was a hilarious Thenardier. It was great to see so many of the stage alums in minor roles. The cast in this movie is exceptionally strong.
The only weak point was Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert. He's great as the character, but couldn't hold his own with the singing. As we left the theater, Dan summed it up, "Russell Crowe tried really hard." A for effort, but he didn't pull it off.
I would have cast someone else in place of Helena Bonham Carter in the role of Madame Thenardier. She was playing the same role that she has been many years. I know she's married to him, but I want Carter to get out of her kooky Tim Burton phase and go back to playing complex characters. She wasn't bad as Madame Thenardier, it was just such obvious casting.
The flip-flopping accents drove me nutty, but that happens in every stage production too.
It's long. The stage version is long too, but having the intermission really helps. The movie just felt too long. I have not seen or listened to Les Mis in many years and watching it last night, made me realize that certain songs are a lot weaker than others. I've never cared for Eponine and her story-line and as good as Samatha Barks was in the role, A Little Fall of Rain just adds more time to the movie. It's unnecessary, as Eponine's love for Marius and her motivations are not subtly revealed in the movie before she sings her ballad. The whole love triangle really bogs down the story.
Something that works on stage, but not so well on screen, are numbers like A Heart Full of Love, with multiple characters singing and layered voices. This is where Hooper should have pulled back from the extreme close-ups.
As I've grown older and become exposed to more musicals, Les Mis, doesn't resonate with me as strongly. It's very much a product of the 80's, when musicals were big and showy and it felt like each character had a reprise or their own show-stopping song, even when it wasn't necessary to further the plot.
I now much prefer musicals like Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years. It's has nothing in the way of showy production value and runs less than an hour and half. Yet, what is so brilliant is Brown's succinct writing. He doesn't belabor plot points or desires. There is constant forward motion. It's the most emotionally loaded musical that I have ever seen and it's all due to the exceptional writing. After revisiting Les MIs last night, I wished that they had been more ruthless with editing back in the 80's. I felt very little in the way of an emotional pull while watching the movie. Really, it just felt too long.
Bottom Line- There is not much technically wrong with the movie version, just the stage version is a better format for the musical and popularity aside, there are many better conceived musicals than Les Miserables.