I have been waiting, and waiting to see this, ever since I heard they were doing a movie of the musical. Les Mis is one of my favourite musicals of all time – I practically know it by heart. Then, of course, after I saw the killer trailer (above), I nearly wept with relief that they (probably) hadn’t screwed it up. What’s my verdict? Read on.
Anne Hathaway completely killed it. She was the one pure, shining moment of ecstasy during 157 minutes of mixed reactions, and I thank God she was cast as Fantine. On the slightly down side, she only appeared for, like, 15 minutes. On the up side, less is more, and I will remember her interpretation of Fantine for the rest of my life, which I put right up there with my personal favourite, Ruthie Henshall.
I’m a fan of the live singing. I think it works. I’m also used to it, being used to live singing all the time in musicals, so the so-called imperfections are actually natural to me. I also liked Eddie Redmayne, whom I found the strongest male character, in terms of acting and singing ability. I wasn’t sure about him at first – his voice seemed really slight – but his “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” nearly equalled Anne Hathaway’s “Dreamed a Dream” for sheer emotive range and power. Also fine performances are young Gavroche, young Cosette, and Eponine – but to be brutally honest, they’re a little hard to screw up compared to the other roles.
When I heard Hugh Jackman was cast, I had mixed reactions. I’d heard him sing, so I knew he had the chops, but I wasn’t a particular fan of his voice (found it rather nasally and straining in the higher registers, and that was only on a high E flat in “Oh What a Beautiful Morning”). So I was grateful they’d cast someone who could sing, even a bit, but I had some doubts vocally. And let’s face it, when has Hugh Jackman ever been particularly praised for his thespian activity? Well, I think the best I can say about his Jean Valjean is he tries damn hard. And he puts in a decent performance. But Jean Valjean is the linchpin of the show. He treads a very fine line between the flawed and the saintly, which he sometimes did tread successfully. But generally I’d characterise his performance as earnest but overeager, and vocally he is not suited to role. (“Bring Him Home” was a travesty. Sorry, mate.)
I don’t know whose idea it was to cast Russell Crowe, and I don’t know why he accepted the role, but damn he looked uncomfortable. I felt uncomfortable for the bloke. He can’t sing, and worse, he can’t act while he’s singing. His two major numbers were a wreck. I saw Les Mis with my mum, who loves loves loves “Stars”, and I could feel her cringe during Crowe’s rendition. And what was with Sacha Baron Cohen putting on a French accent when no one else had one?
That craptastic new song in the middle that Hugh Jackman sings as he’s ferrying Cosette away from the Thenardiers, “Suddenly”. Yes, fantastic idea, let’s write a cutesy, lovey song that could have come from Wicked, and chuck it into the semi-operatic Les Mis. Yeah, that should work.
I figure that my attachment and knowledge of the show can go two ways. On the one hand, I can be and am so bloody relieved that it got done at all, and so well, overall, considering the difficulties inherent in the project. But on the other hand, I have standards. And with the central roles so weakly cast, the best I can say is that it’s a mixed bag.