A Standing Ovation for Les Miz

Les MizBefore I even begin a review of the current film, I have to acknowledge the hold this musical has over my heart. I’ve seen the stage version multiple times. As a teenager I sang “On My Own” into my mirror with embarrassing frequency. I still stop whatever I’m doing every time PBS airs the 25th Anniversary Concert special. My feelings about the music are inexorably intertwined with people I have loved and lost. No one will ever sing “Bring Him Home” with the heart-breaking sweetness and depth of the late Joe Bass. Likewise, no showman will ever upstage Wayne Buidens barely singing, but completely selling “Master of the House.”

So, there now, I’ve admitted my total lack of objectivity when it comes to Les Miz.

Oh, and I might also mention that for several years I have had a fantasy crush on Hugh Jackman. Hugh JackmanActor, singer, devoted husband, loving dad, clever and hilarious interviewee and that body! C’mon. Who doesn’t love this man?

Given my passion for the music and the lead actor, I actually got excited about the movie version. Of course, I also feared the many ways in which Hollywood could ruin my beloved musical – miscasting, inserting spoken dialogue, retelling, 3D, bad musical arrangements, deleting scenes, adding new music…. The reviews, when they came in, did not inspire a whole lot of confidence in the film. Frankly, I’m surprised I didn’t chicken out on seeing it.

On New Year’s Day, along with my son and my mother, I saw the movie.

I love it.

First of all, my man Hugh Jackman gives the performance of a lifetime as Jean Valjean. Yes, his singing can tend toward the nasal, but his performance overall brought me to tears over and over again. He embodies the role, reaching deep into himself to portray the pain of a man teetering on the precipice between despair and salvation. Hopefully, the Academy will recognize the physical, emotional and vocal demands of this role and reward him with an Oscar.

Samantha BarksThe other stand-out for me is Samantha Barks as Éponine. Barks is not (yet) a Hollywood star, but I was familiar with her because she played the same role in the 25th Anniversary Concert I mentioned earlier. I’m stunned that the producers actually allowed the stage actress and not a Hollywood starlet to play this crucial and meaty role. I’m sure her beauty and smoking hot body didn’t hurt, but she is simply brilliant as the heartbroken and courageous Éponine.

Actually, the supporting cast in general is outstanding. They each had moments to shine and held the film together beautifully.

Are there flaws? You bet. Russell Crow is a vocal embarrassment as Javert. He is a fine actor, but I actually cringed every time he began to sing. And, while Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are both perfectly cast as the inn-keeper and his wife, I found their antics too overblown even for these overblown characters. Carter, especially, is so similar to her Sweeney Todd portrayal of Mrs. Lovitt, that it was like watching the same film.

But none of the film’s flaws could mar the overall brilliance, drama and epic sweep of the movie. I applaud the director, Tom Hooper, for his courage in allowing the actors to really sing their roles – to allow their characters to carry the musicality instead of the other way around. I know he’s already catching flack for recording their songs “in the moment,” but that is what captures the theatre magic in the movie. The cinematography, costumes, sets and editing are all top-notch.

I have no idea how this movie will resonate with audiences who don’t already love the musical (my 10 year-old thought it was “fine.), but if you’re a Les Miz fan, I encourage you to go. Bring tissue, sit back, and get swept away.

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14 thoughts on “A Standing Ovation for Les Miz

  1. S and I are going to try to hit a showing this weekend. Although I know the soundtrack by heart, I’m almost a little ashamed to admit that I’ve never seen the theater production of it. Can’t wait to see the movie though.

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  2. It’s not out here yet, Anna Karenina only just opened and I’ve seen that already, but funny you mention Les Misérables, as I just added it to my TBR after reading a magnificent review of the book, honestly if you love the story as much as you do, it sounds like the book is fantastic – maybe you’ve read it already? I’ve seen the musical twice, once in Sydney and once in London and will definitely watch the film and am now inspired to read the book.

    Check out Ben’s Review here.

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  3. Great review. I can’t wait to see this new adaptation of the story. And you should definitely read the book. It explains so much more about the story and then when you watch any of the movies or the theatre production afterwards things are even more poignant, more powerful.

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