I know the new Les Misérables film has been out since 2012, but I’ve just had no interest in watching it. Even after hearing some good things, including from my sisters, I still couldn’t summon the will to go watch it. There are a few reasons for this:
- I really love the music of Les Misérables. It’s among my favourite of any musical. And I’m really familiar with it. I’ve heard dozens of different versions many hundreds of times growing up. I was just convinced that the film cast couldn’t pull it off. I didn’t want to spend two-and-a-half hours squirming. (Like I did during Phantom of the Opera—ugh.)
- As much as I love film musicals, the whole prerecord-the-soundtrack-then-try-to-act-convincingly works fine for lighter comedies (I love Moulin Rouge and Chicago, for example), but Les Mis is much heavier. There’s so much emotion you want the singer to convey.
- And it’s unfair, but I also have a “thing” about Anne Hathaway. Maybe it was the dozens of times my nieces watched The Princess Diaries. I have just not liked a thing she has been in, and I was simply convinced she would ruin one of my favourite characters. (I knew in the back of my head she had won an Oscar, but that apparently did not sway me.)
Well, Adele finally went and got it from the library and wanted to watch it, so I relented. This post is part of my repentance process.
Let’s get the most obvious thing out of the way. Anne, I apologize. Your rendition of “I had a dream” was the highlight of the entire production. And your return at the very end was electric. I loved your performance.
I was nervous in the first half. The best technical singer in that first part was the child Cosette! But in the second half the singing really got going. Jackman had this really wide vibrato in his lower register, but his upper stuff was spot on, and man can he act! I was not a fan of Russell Crowe for the most part. I find his affect pretty flat, and his two main numbers just didn’t grab me. His short numbers and recitative were good, though. Eddie Redmayne and Aaron Tveit totally surprised me. What gorgeous voices! Amanda Seyfried…well…I don’t know if they were auto-tuning or sweetening her voice somehow. The Disney princess vibrato was so distracting, and some of those high notes were piercing in this “break glass” sort of way. Samantha Barks was superb, of course. And as expected, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were awesome as the Thénardiers.
What sold this production for me was the director’s insistence that all the singing be done live. I sincerely hope we see more and more of this sort of production. Film does such a great job of bringing the audience right in to the performance. You can get right into the face of a performer and really buy in to the story in ways you just can’t do from the second balcony. But when you prerecord the singing, the actor is locked in. Even if they record it with tears and catches, the sincerity is lost in the slavish duplication. By recording it live, the actor can actually act. This is one thing that made Hathaway’s performance so mesmerizing for me, and it covers many technical “sins.”
All in all, I thought this was a tremendous performance of Les Mis and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good musical. Even if you’ve never been a fan of Les Mis, you should give this a try. This format conveys the narrative element in a crystal clear way, and the emotional performances are riveting.