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Home » Culture and Criticism

Les Miserables: Uch, haine

Submitted by on February 7, 2013 – 7:17 PM30 Comments
My kingdom for a bran flaaaaake

My kingdom for a bran flaaaaake

Never have I been so delighted to break a review screener in half as instructed. Les Miserables is everything I mean when I say I hate musicals: loud, obvious, sincere, leaden, fucking goddamn endless. Every single line is sung, including transitional and stage-business things that have no need of a melody line, and every member of the cast is bellowing at full strength, even though the camera is right there in every shot, like, no need to shout, cheri. Everything is horribly grimy and unfair, and Javert hasn't taken a satisfying dump since the last time they chose a pope. Got it. Quiet down.

Javert…oy. Russell Crowe is as overmatched and self-serious as you've heard, unconvinced his own self that he can hit the notes — or that anyone should, and if the actors don't believe that their characters would sing their travails, why should the audience care? I wouldn't have cared anyway, because I've never had any use for Les Miz thanks to its cardboard conflicts and these-go-to-eleven songcraft, but Hugh Jackman almost sells it. Then, inevitably, the plot asks us to care about a flavorless love triangle (Eddie Redmayne is once again laboring in a role that doesn't give him much to do beyond "moonstruck," and while he's very good at that, he'd better start picking parts with more range before he ages out of those freckles). There are moppets, plural. Anne Hathaway's big one-take moment is a legit show-stopper, and good for her, but it does not contain enough mercy within its multitudes to actually stop the show; the movie just…keeps…going. I now have a master's degree in art-directed dirty fingernails.

This isn't to say that I don't get why Les Miz works on people; I do. I can see how and where that visceral connection would get made. It's just on a frequency I don't pick up, same as David Lynch and Macallan 12, and like those things, trying to get it is an exercise in frustration.

If you liked it, you're right. If you think you'll hate it, you're right.

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30 Comments »

  • Halo says:

    Your second-to-last sentence completely sums up what I've tried and failed to explain to my Les Miz-freak friends. People probably feel the same way about my obsessive love of ballet.

  • Jack says:

    I say this as an admitted fan of the stage show:

    Seriously, Tom Hooper, I'm pretty sure I don't need the camera halfway up Anne Hathaway's goddamn nose in order to get the emotion of "I Dreamed a Dream."

  • Space Kitty says:

    Dear sweet mother of all monkeys, can we please have a moratorium on Eddie 'spit curls' Redmayne?! I don't know why I've managed to take him personally, but I just can't with him, the freckles, the earnestness and above all the hair.

    Just no, make it stop. Please, just stop.

  • Robin says:

    I already knew I would never watch this movie, but I enjoyed the hell out of your smackdown, so thanks. (I'm so glad you hate musicals too. I say this to most people and they're like "You hate MUSICALS? Have you no soul?" and I'm like YES. I absolutely fucking hate them. Over-sincere emoting plus jazz hands gives me the existential fantods.)

  • ferretrick says:

    Well, not getting musicals is fine, and if it's not your thing it's not, but the first paragraph of your review is unfair. THe reason everyone's bellowing at full strength is they HAD to be, because they were being recorded live, rather than lip syncing to tracks recorded in a studio. They had to be loud to be picked up by the equipment. It was experimental; it's never been done before, and you can agree or disagree that it was successful (it wasn't), but blaming it on the cast is not accurate.

  • Kat From Jersey says:

    I'll admit there are some enjoyable musicals, but this ain't one of 'em! The worst are the ones where *everything* is sung (Cats comes to mind). I need some witty dialogue to help get me through the sappy ballads. I suffered through this at the Paper Mill Playhouse, and that was enough for me.

  • Rachel says:

    Musicals are my kryptonite. When I first moved to the NYC area, my sweet husband-person was SO EXCITED that now we'd be able to go see All The Musicals on Actual Broadway like he did as a kid. So he dragged me to see "Miss Saigon" and I was all "…menh?" I mean, I liked Rent a lot but I don't really get down with people standing on stage bellowing at me tunefully (or not, as the case may be).

    And I have never, ever understood the appeal of Les Mis. The book is basically a list of why one wouldn't want to live in early 19th-century France. Not exactly the sort of material that causes one to burst into song.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Oh, brother. I know how the music was recorded. That part is actually kind of cool, and I think it WAS successful, because it left some imperfections in that I prefer to the glossy belting you usually get.

    I ALSO know that that's not an excuse for an utter lack of nuance. This is 2013. (Okay, '11-12 when it was filmed, but same diff.) Microphones and recording equipment are incredibly sophisticated, and have been for a decade; a mouse fart could "be picked up by the equipment." Again, I like the way this was done, in THEORY, but the idea that the performances are two-note (excuse the pun) because they're overcompensating for substandard equipment, on a Hollywood production, in 2013? Also not accurate.

    I don't think I blamed the cast, either, except for Crowe, who's trying very hard at least; they were "directed" terribly.

    I don't see anything unfair in what I said. Perhaps I should have come down harder on Hooper, but I didn't.

  • Rachel says:

    So pleased to see this. The only good musicals are Calamity Jane and Singing in the Rain.

  • attica says:

    I like musicals, but I hated this show. (Won't see the movie.) I even got the tickets for free, but that didn't help. I was audibly delighted when the first act closed and it was clear Eponine wouldn't be joining us for Act 2. Sadly, that didn't help Act 2 be any less interminable.

    I get why people like it, but it plucks at my spinal cord in unpleasant ways.

    A few years back, I sought out and purchased an album by Russell Crowe and his then-band. Aaaaand popped it up on eBay the day after I received it. In hindsight, that was the beginning of the end of my Crowe crush. A tune badly warbled is often a death-knell for me and my affection.

  • Kim says:

    For any fans who haven't seen it yet…SEE IT! I understand why non-fans (of musicals in general, or this one in particular) would hate it, but if you do like the ridiculousness of musicals then I recommend this. I am a huge fan of the Broadway version and as such loved this movie so much that I saw it on two consecutive days. With that said, I don't understand Hooper's choice to have the camera so damn close to the actors ALL the time. That was distracting, but not enough to keep me from recommending this to all of my musical theater-loving friends.

  • Sarah says:

    I really got bored of the close-ups (sorry, Hooper). It just felt like at a certain point, it was time to stop reveling in what film can do that musicals can't (i.e. focus on people's faces) and stop having it feel like a series of singing portraits. We watched "Brave" on OnDemand the next night and within the first five minutes, I was like, Okay, now, this is already more engrossing and visually interesting. And it was drawn.

  • GeorgiaS says:

    When I saw the trailer for this, I turned to my boyfriend and said: "It looks really good, except for all the singing." I'd like to see all the best picture nominees, but I don't think I could make it through this.

  • Sandman says:

    I don't have Sars' (or attica's) aversion to musicals. (I love opera, so sung-through holds few terrors for me, unless we're talking Nixon in China or something. I enjoyed the stage version of Les Miz when I saw it years ago, but I find myself hesitating about the movie – maybe the directorial/bombasturbatory choices you allude to are part of the reason?

    @Space Kitty: the way you feel about Redmayne is how I feel about Seyfried. Just, please – make her stop.

  • GeorgiaS says:

    @Sandman:

    "bombasturbatory" = hilarious

  • scout1222 says:

    Musicals are usually my kryptonite, with probably less than 5 exceptions in my life. And usually the ones where everything is sung are the highest on my hate list.

    But man, do I love Les Miz. Haven't seen this version yet, but only because I just don't get out to the theater much anymore.

    My mom has a good story about Miss Saigon (I mention this because of the commenter who got dragged to it!) – she had no idea it was one of those all singing all the time things, and she and her friend just found it ridiculous. To this day, all we have to do is operatically sing "Hey you guys!" and we dissolve in peals of laughter, because in describing this musical to me, my mom said "They just sang EVERYTHING! Hey, you guys!"

  • KTB says:

    I haaated the movie. And I love Les Miz–I saw it in the West End of London when I was in high school with the original Eponine. And chose Cosette as my "french" name in high school French class. So yeah, into the show.

    That said, I knew I was going to have problems with the movie and Sars totally hit most of them: far too many insane close-ups, Eddie Redmayne was badly miscast, and subpar singing.

    I will admit that Anne Hathaway did a pretty good job, and I really liked HBC and SBC as the Thenardiers, as they are excellent comic relief in an otherwise pretty self-important musical. The thing about the musical is that when you see it live, it's an impressive show. The stage moves, the whole thing it over the top, and that's pretty much what makes it special. The movie undercut that and tried to go over the over the top and missed by a mile.

  • Beth C. says:

    *Pushes up theater nerd glasses* Le Miz isn't technically a musical, it's an Operetta. That's why everything not from a song is done is recitative (that sing-talking stuff) and it's all so big and overblown all the time. *takes off theater nerd glasses*

    That being said, I agree with Sars's comment, it isn't that the show is bad or the actors weren't good, or at least not doing the best they could, it's that to pull of the style you need the director be really good at a very specific kind of directing. Hooper doesn't have the experience for it, nor, in my opinion, the best style to make an Opera-type show work on screen. Especially in a Hollywood film type setting where people are inately expecting a more realistic thing. To make something this stylized work, you need to hit it out of the park on the first swing. That didn't happen. It really should have been done by an Opera director. Or someone who can go completely Felini-esque wackadoo and make it work. But that's my opinion, and I know that a lot of people loved it as is, which is totally fine. It completely a taste thing.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Confession time–I have never watched or listened to Le Miz. I know about it, of course–didn't study theater for nothing!–but have never watched it.

    I think I was subconciously put off by the iconic poster of tiny Cosette and the giant mop: "Why is a three year old mopping the floor? And why would they give her such a huge mop? She's going to expend all her energy trying not to be crushed by a giant mop! This is not a timely floor-mopping arrangement!"

    I've been considering going just to see Hathaway, but that's about the only reason.

    Also, Crowe may not float my boat, but to be fair, nobody could in that hat.

  • Haras says:

    I love a well-done musical, or operetta, as the case may be and I'll see pretty much anything live if given the opportunity.
    For some reason Les Mis has never really resonated with me – I'm invested in the personal drama, but the revolutionary side of the story never interests me and unfortunately the second half is overly heavy on that side of things.

    That said, I liked the movie a lot more than the stage show – precisely BECAUSE of the close-up shooting style. Les Mis tends to turn into one big blob of muddy-looking poverty on stage, and having the close-up solos really kept me engaged. So, to each their own, I suppose.
    I'm not surprised it is a polarizing movie, and I definitely agree with advice along the lines of "if you think you won't like it, you are correct, so don't bother." I've told several people that already.

  • Sandman says:

    @Beth C. ::pats seat in Nerd Section:: Aw, come sit by me, friend!

    @Jen S 1.0: These are very pertinent questions.

    And you should all be very glad I never got the bat off my shoulder for that haine/hen pun I was working up…

  • Kateebar says:

    Oh thank God. All around me people have been fawning and talking about crying buckets and whatnot over this thing. And I just can't bring myself to watch it. I saw it on Broadway and I enjoyed it and that was enough, thanks. For the record, I also hate Forrest Gump, so by most accounts I am a cold-hearted super villain.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Kateebar, I hate Forrest Gump too! Mainly because Sally Field plays his mother. The same actor who played his LOVE INTEREST only a few years before in a movie called Punchline. Gahhh.

  • Carena says:

    I absolutely loved this movie. But then I've loved the stage version ever since I was in High School. My mother bought me tickets to see it in San Antonio and they had this HUGE revolving stage. It was right up there w/ another show for "walking out of the show and humming the scenery"
    My mother and I live about 5,000 miles apart and so she gave my husband money to take me to the movie and get dinner. He included my 13 year old daughter.
    At the end I wiped away all of the tears going down my face and I turned to my family and I said, "Wasn't that amazing?" and my daughter said I'm not allowed to pick movies any more. And my husband admitted he had walked into that move with absolutely no knowledge of it except for the fact that it is a musical… and my mom isn't allowed to pick movies for us any more.
    So, my family? 1 totally unhesitatingly for, 2 completely totally unhesitatingly against.
    :)

  • CrushLily says:

    I was a teenage girl when the stage show came to my city so I had to see the movie. But I came out of it realising how much more a live audience brings to the Les Miz experience.

    Eponine's big solo fell flat and I was just distracted by how teeny tiny the actress' waist was; "One Day More" should have lifted the roof off but just didn't even make it to the ceiling; and my favourite song "Do you hear the people sing?" was passable, but not spectacular like I remembered it. Russell Crowe was just so bad that I couldn't even work out why he did what he did at the very end.

    On the other hand: I barely remember "I dreamed a dream" in the show, but I thought Anne Hathaway did a remarkable job; and Enjolras was totally gorgeous and turned out to be Tripp from Gossip Girl!

    For a trip down memory lane it was good, but meh, maybe I've just grown out of it?

  • Leigh says:

    I love musicals–LOVE them, wish real life could be more like them, etc. But I'd never seen Les Mis. My husband, who really DOES NOT like musicals, knew how excited I was to see the movie and agreed to go with me.

    And then they sang ALL THE THINGS. Even for a musical lover like me, it was a little much. At one point my husband went to the bathroom and when he (finally) came back and asked what he missed, I growled, "SINGING." I don't think he'll ever agree to see another musical with me.

    I did love some parts of it very much, although not enough to sit through the whole thing again. I think Russell Crowe was badly miscast, and I honestly didn't enjoy Anne Hathaway's performance just because of the Anne Hathaway-ness of it–I couldn't stop thinking of her as Anne Hathaway Playing Fantine, instead of just the character.

  • Elisa says:

    I'm really torn about Les Mis (have always been) because there are some songs I find amazing and but most of the songs put me to sleep. I like watching it at home because I can just skip the absurd love triangle and sad-singing-in-the-rain parts.

    Of course I had to see the movie, but I was sort of dreading it because I knew I couldn't skip anything. I HAAAAAAAAATED being so damned close to everyone's face. Ugh.

  • Elisa says:

    I forgot to add:

    @Space Kitty: OMG, I cannot stand Redmayne either. It doesn't matter what he's doing. I strongly dislike him. I think it's his mouth.

    "Flames! Flames…on the side of my face. Burning, heaving, flames…"

  • Sandman says:

    @attica: I meant to say earlier that I read your comment too quickly and attributed to you a dislike of musicals in general which you did not espouse. Sorry 'bout that.

  • rab01 says:

    @Beth C. — I had always thought that operettas could have dialogue, mainly because I loved Gilbert & Sullivan growing up and thought those musicals (?) were called operettas. Should the actors have been singing the dialogue in the productions I saw?

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