BY EMILY GAGNE
I’ve dreamed a personal dream for quite some time. I’ve dreamed of seeing Les Misérables on stage. Alas, even after years of local theatre-going and birthday trips to Broadway, this dream has never officially materialized. So, I couldn’t have been more delighted when I heard that someone was finally going to make a film version. As I’m sure someone, somewhere, has said before, if you can’t get to show, wait until the show starts showing at your local Cineplex.
I entered Les Mis, the film, with high hopes, which had long been inflated by the glorious nature of songs like “On My Own,” every perpetually single girl’s unofficial anthem, and dramatic, French Revolution-set backdrop. And I would be lying if I said they didn’t remain floating throughout the course of Tom Hooper’s near-three-hour treatment.
While it’s certainly rocky and overwrought in certain moments, as I always imagined the original musical might be based on my high school reading of the book, Les Misérables is actually quite a moving, entertaining version of the well-known tale of escaped convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman here), the relentless police officer obsessed with tracking him (Russell Crowe) and the young woman (Amanda Seyfried) he takes on as his daughter after her prostitute mother (Anne Hathaway) passes away. (Sounds kind of like a 19th century episode of Montel, huh?! It is, but with non-stop singing!)
This iteration Les Misérables is emotionally charged to say the least. I laughed (at Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter’s hysterical take on Monsieur and Madame Thénardier). I cried (as Hathaway sang of her own, much more harrowing, lost dreams in her last moments as the doomed Fantine). I fell in love (with Aaron Tveit and his captivating, over-permed performance as revolutionary Enjolras). I grew to hate (Russell Crowe’s singing face). I recognized an old friend (original Jean Valjean Colm Wilkinson plays the Bishop). I got a sudden urge to wear the blood of angry men (red!) and the dark of ages past (black!)! All this, all over the course of just a few hours of too-sweeping long shots and purposefully dirtied costuming!
On a surface level, Les Misérables is the cheesiest, Oscar baity, bloated budget thing you’ll have seen in quite some time. Even some of the performances could fall in that category (sorry, Seyfried). But the music is — with the exception of a horrific newbie (“Suddenly”) — as gorgeous as ever, elevated by some stellar singing from Hathaway, Tveit and Samantha Banks (“On My Own” Eponine to you). And, as anyone who has seen Grease 2 can attest, good music is a great way to distract from a film’s other, much lesser aspects.
I am still fascinated by the fact that Hooper chose to make everyone sing live on set. It really does work in the favour of the material, which, despite the heart-swelling nature of the score at times, can be rather bleak. I’m not trying to downplay Hathaway’s performance at all (she’s the standout, by far), but I doubt that her “I Dreamed a Dream” would have been half as soul-crushing if you couldn’t hear the cry-warble in her voice or see the veins busting out of her even-pastier-than-normal neck. I can only imagine powerful it must be on stage.
(Nothing, not even Russell Crowe in an intense hat, can kill that aforementioned dream I still dream!)