I’d been waiting for months for the Les Mis movie. After several majorly disappointing movie musical adaptations of the past few years, I didn’t have the same unreasonably high expectations that I did for, say, Sweeney Todd. Also, having seen the touring production in Montreal some time around 1994, it’s another one of those shows that I know mostly from hours of listening to original cast recordings – and, in this case, PBS broadcast tribute concerts.
I also love to cry at media. Theatre, film, visual art – you name it. I’m a sucker for heavy emoting. And, trust me, on this count Les Mis did not disappoint. Almost to a fault.
You’ve heard all the standard reviews by now. Anne Hathaway is mind blowing (sort-of), Russell Crowe is woefully miscast as someone who can sing (true), Aaron Tveit looks really cute in a tight pair of 19th century pants (yes please). Some people didn’t like Hugh Jackman, but considering the role calls for a range only Mariah Carey can claim to be able to sing, I thought he did an admirable job.
My issue with Les Mis was that, for all its stage artifice and 80’s megamusical artistry, the show is fundamentally a competition for the 19th century France Yearbook’s “Most Miserable” award. While onstage, the live presence of actors singing serves to heighten your suspension of disbelief, the transportative properties of film almost annihilate any kind of enjoyment one can glean from the majesty of the work. Rather, you find yourself for 2 and a half hours watching a society decay and waiting for everybody to die.
As one of the musical theatre’s number one fans, I love being emotionally manipulated and affected to the point of breaking. But the gut wrenching transformation from theatre into film, from performers onstage into a world which does not physically occupy the same space as the audience, is too intense. I cried from about seven minutes into the film until the almost very end. And not your standard teary eyed kleenex dabbing cry – we’re talking full on, my dog just run over by a car, histrionics.
All this to say that Les Mis was more affecting than I could have ever imagined. And while this should be a good thing, in this case, I need to plead for mercy. The problem with Les Mis is that it’s almost too spot on in its transposition; almost too realistic in its depiction of misery. Once you get over the fact that they are singing (and it does take a while because sung-through musicals never entirely work on film), you find your thoughts and your heart thrown mercilessly into an epic story about failure with very few moments of respite. At least if you’re going to be so damn proficient, Tom Hooper, throw us an intermission part way through?
Have you seen Les Mis? You probably have if you’re reading this. Let me know what you thought!