Years and years ago, I saw Les Miserables on the stage in London. So I knew the story, and I knew I was going to cry (a lot) before I ever set foot in the movie theater. I have always wanted to read the book too, but alas, the 1,500 pages smoked me out. I know, I'm a wimp.
I'd read quite a few reviews beforehand, and the critics were either ambivalent about it or really loathed it. There was all this singing, some of it not well done, pandering for Oscars, road-show carnival, blah blah blah. Entertainment Weekly showed up at the screening already pissed off and ready for battle before they heard one note. What a mean-spirited review. (See if I renew my subscription! Freaking Commies.)
But it brings forth a good question. How does one separate the story, which is impossible not to love, people, and the actual movie production? I'm not sure if I can answer that. I suppose that is why I am not a movie reviewer. Because to see the movie is to have it invade your soul and take up space where the tears are stored, thus squeezing out everything.
So, brief summary for a complicated plot. Convicted bread thief Valjean (Jackman) is released on parole, and is giving a fresh start from a loving bishop. But in order to start fresh, he disappears (ignoring parole) and is forever hunted down by Captain Javert (Crowe). Valjean becomes successful and selflessly lives every moment of his life trying to give back to those in need, including Fantine, a young woman who prostitutes in order to send money to a unsavory couple who cares for her little girl. On Fantine's deathbed, Valjean promises to adopt the little girl, Cosette, and give her the best possible life. Once Cosette becomes a young woman (Seyfried), she falls in love with a student revolutionary (Redmayne), and the lives of all of them become inexorably entwined.
I thought all the singing (every word in the movie is sung) would bother me but it didn't. Not everyone is a Broadway-caliber entertainer here, please understand. But they all performed their own work, they were in key, and after awhile I didn't even notice it. Russell Crowe has gotten so much crap over his performance and his singing, it makes me sick. Is singing his thing? No, of course not! But it is not that bad. He was the antagonist who eventually finds his moral code, and that particular transformation was moving to me. I really have no wish to hear any more about his dyspeptic facial expressions or his "Cap'n Crunch" costuming - like that hat and epaulets are HIS fault.
The performances by Hathaway and Jackman were superb. My God, just rip my heart out and stomp on it. If you have heard a rumor that you might cry harder at the movie than at a funeral, take heed. Jackman had a few issues with his singing as well, but his raw emotion (and devastating good looks) compensates for them. And of course, as I'm sure you all know at this point, Hathaway knocks it right out of the park, despite the fact that her on-screen time is minimal. Dare you not to lose it when she sings (or as EW so sweetly describes it, warbles) "I Dreamed a Dream". Plus she has her hair cut live in one of the scenes, and she loses 25 pounds for the role. No small feat, this.
The use of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter for comic relief as Cosette's swindling caretakers worked well. They were over-exaggerated, nasty and hilarious, as both of them do so well. It provides that tiny bit of farce that lightens an otherwise heavy load.
The costumes were gorgeous. Costuming is not something I usually notice. I live in t-shirts and jeans and flip flops so a fashion maven I am not. But all that silk, lace, ruffles and rags were stunning to the eye.
I know many people have been on the fence about seeing this movie, with concerns about the length (close to 3 hours with previews) and the singing, but I left the movie feeling that everyone should give this film a try. It so touched my heart. It does have a PG-13 rating, with some bloodshed and prostitution. My biggest concern, though, for an appropriately-aged kid would be whether they would understand what was going on. I saw my daughter's eyes glaze over a few times.
Resist the haters. Bring the tissues. And enjoy.
5 out of 5 stars