Broadway hit misses on the big screen
I’ve never seen the stage version of Les Mis or even heard anything from the soundtrack. So, here I’m judging this on its own terms, as a musical film, not as the Broadway show itself. And as a film, it was easily the worst thing I’ve seen at the multiplex in 2012.
On the other hand, the rest of the audience seemed genuinely moved. People were sobbing by the end, and a good chunk gave it an ovation when it faded to black.
But for me, it was pure torture. Nothing but the rudiments of Victor Hugo’s classic multifaceted novel remain. A synopsis—a tale of redemption revolving around Jean Valjean, a French peasant who, after serving time in prison for stealing bread, jumps parole and encounters a string of dramatic characters and revolutionaries in 19th-century France—serves only as life-support for two and a half hours of sung-through elevator musical.
OK, Hugh Jackman (as Valjean) and Anne Hathaway (as the ill-fated Fantine) were in their milieu. Hathaway was a little overwrought, but at least she added passion to an otherwise tedious ensemble. But Amanda Seyfried (Cosette) and Eddy Redmayne (Marius) were vacuums as the romantic leads, and Russell Crowe was seriously miscast as Valjean’s foil, Javert.
The Sacha Baron Cohen/Helena Bonham Carter comic relief was excruciating (the former making me want to take a lighter to the screen anytime he was on), and seemed lifted from Tim Burton’s adaptation of Sweeny Todd. (It’s probably not a good idea to evoke Sondheim when doing lesser material.)
The motivations of the characters were unclear, even when conveyed via a five-minute “song.” No actor sells a character you’ll feel bad for when they finally get around to dying. Unfortunately, the four people I really wanted to see die are the only ones who make it to the end credits. I could go on, but I feel like a bitchy Rex Reed reviewing a high-school production.
I will say that Samantha Barks (as doomed …ponine) was wonderful. She actually made everyone else look bad. However, given its place as one of the most beloved Broadway shows of all time, how the film comes across to us newcomers to the musical will hardly matter when the box office is counted.