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Les Misérables - Film Review

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Published May 28th 2014
French for "Too much singing."

The first 10 minutes of the film was great. I felt like I was part of post-Napoleonic French society. It's a shame the singing didn't keep me there.

The novel, published in 1862 by Victor Hugo, was about triumph over bad circumstances to reach perfection. Though the novel was intensely popular, I believe the screen adaptation would have Hugo rolling in his grave.

The great theme is suffering. The original title may as well have been La Comédie Musicale Misérable. Things never get better for anyone. The characters are presented to us in a state of suffering and the theme of suffering continues, without relief, for over two hours.

I'm making a film that depresses people? Well I guess that's a change from the norm - making everyone incredibly happy. I am WOLVERINE!

The film is overly musical (even for a musical) and way too musical for a miserable musical. There is more singing than speaking, which I could look past if the majority of the actors weren't musically-challenged. There is unintentional comedy in scenes such as when a man sings to another man IN A VERY LOUD VOICE about how he's going to kill him (for no good reason). The mood changes drastically in scenes such as when a woman sings, depressed out of her skull, alone and hopeless about the future. Though I prefer the dialogues to the monologues, ultimately it doesn't make much difference as there is just too much depressive singing for such a lengthy film.

On the upside, the singing is traditionally live. Spontaneous performance always deserves credit because it's genuine, and who doesn't love that? Much respect to Anne Hathaway for her impressive performance singing, I Dreamed a Dream. It is well-executed, heart-wrenching honesty - but not half as interesting as Susan Boyle's jaw-dropping performance (for all the wrong reasons).

"I dreamed a dream I was prettier and more impressive than Susan Boyylleee... that horrible, talented, wonderful, disgusting old haaag

That said, it could have been shorter. One has only so much emotional energy for such a powerfully-sorrowful scene that seems to have gone on much longer than it probably did. Hathaway plays the factory-worker-turned-prostitute, Fatine, who is homeless, hungry, abused, bald... amongst other things. Her final scene was powerful; so powerful it gave me a headache. That was around the time I decided to stop feeling anything for the characters.

Trying to stay objective is difficult when one feels nothing.* I did not feel a connection with anyone and rendered the film emotionally unbalanced. I simply had nothing left to give. (The moment might be likened to the termination of a seemingly-promising relationship.)

Though the film left me emotionally drained, the glitz made up for it. The choreography, dancing and scenery is impressive and the visual perspective is crazy-complex. It's unrestricted, free-flowing and mesmerizing. Many scenes are a vast panoply of radiant costumes, and spectacular set designs. It's festive in a haunting way and the actors put on a dream-like performance. The dancers move with whiplash-grace through a myriad other zesty, glittered-up thespians. It's as if people are celebrating life - but they're definitely not.

Back to the singing! Though Hathaway can sing, a lot of the other actors aren't as talented in that front - sometimes, to the point of comedy. One man caught my attention like nails on a chalkboard. Javert (played by Russel Crowe) hums in unnatural low tones from a part of his throat that is most likely meant for snoring. His tonsils convulse in such a way that creates wobbly, phantom-like sounds. It's very strange watching Russel play the role of the singing man because it doesn't look natural, but is definitely giggle-worthy. **

Javert makes it his life's mission to destroy Jean (played by Wolverine... I mean Hugh Jackman) for stealing (wait for it...) a loaf of bread! Only to ultimately realise... (SPOILER ALERT)

"Hey, that Wolv - I mean Jean - isn't so bad! I wasted all these years trying to kill him and he's a totally nice dude! I could've done something worthwhile with my life, instead of being such a vengeful, obsessive freak. Maybe I'll buy a Labrador (... am I living in the right century for that breed?) Anyway, maybe I could move to the countryside and take up singing less - WAIT, what am I saying? I'm a GREAT singer! And I HATE dogs! I hate everything! All this self-talk is making me mad! And when Javert get mad, Javert like to THROW THINGS! Like himself - into this here river! Wheeeeee, look at me fly!! I'm a bird! Now I'm a fish!! Now I'm cold and I can't breathe. Goodnight!"

javert, russel crowe, les miserables, french revolution
A terrible singer am I? I'll have you know I have a band. Do you have a band? Didn't think so!

(Note: Javert didn't actually say any of these words, but that's exactly he did.) He jumped to his death, in comical forced low notes, all the way down to the icy water which ruined his perfectly-tailored man-of-law suit.

Speaking of which, the costumes were remarkable in design. They were usually vibrant against an otherwise-grim backdrop. I loved Helena Bonham-Carter's get up. Though not all costumes were aesthetically pleasing; the film had to stay true to the visual identity of 19th century France. They were all, however, amazing - there's a Pinterest page specially dedicated to Les Misérables costumes. Go see!

I'll tell you what was a fantastic idea. This new-age quiff thing I've got going on with my hair. It's totally not era-appropriate, but whateva, I'm Eddie Redmayne.

Les Misérables: the film - was the idea a good one? Yes, for some. For me, the novel didn't translate well to cinema. The adaptation from novel to film is always a delicate process as the actors must maintain the integrity of the original story and the director should capture it in a way that does the story justice. What may seem poetic in a novel may come across as clumsy in film if not executed skilfully. Using big shot Hollywood American actors distracted from the authenticity of the original French work. Asking them to sing distracted from the experience of trying to take the film seriously; a film that had potential as a passionate portrayal but was essentially anaemic. If you're still unsure whether or not to watch Les Misérables, my sincere suggestion is that you do whatever makes for an interesting memory. I am writing about it, after all.

* Monsieur Thénardier, however, was a dirty hustler of a chap. I liked him.

** What Terminator is to Schwarzenegger, Gladiator is to Crowe. What Junior is to Schwarzenegger, Les Misérables is to Crowe. Sometimes we just want our heroes to say "no" to questionable roles... but then they decide to try something "new" and make us laugh and laugh.
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When: Out Now
Where: Blu-ray / DVD
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