1.02.2013

Les Miserables Review

I won't bore you by spending the first 3 paragraphs of this review convincing you of my ardor for the musical Les Miserables; however, let it suffice to say, that if there is anyone who knows this musical up/down/backwards/and forwards- it's me. It should simply be enough for you to know that I have a double  BFA in Musical Theatre and Professional Acting, and I know what i'm talking about.

Now that we've established that i'm somewhat qualified to write a review, let us begin.

I went into viewing this movie with extreme trepidation. After hearing Anne Hathaway's vocals in the trailer, I just knew I was in for serious disappointment. But I tried to keep an optimistic outlook.

It was wonderful to be able to attend the movie with my Dad, who had never heard the musical, read the book, or seen the Liam Neeson film version. He allowed me to witness a first time reaction to this bold and beautiful story, which is always exciting for me.

For those of you who LOVED this movie--- I can understand why.  I have a theory about Les Miserable and West Side Story.  I feel as though their foundation is so immaculate, that little can be done (or not done) to dissuade the audience from being deeply moved when it's completed. In other words: If you've ever gone to see a crappy high school version of either of these musicals and still been weeping at the end of the show, it's because the material is amazing enough to transcend lackluster actors.

 I refuse to be impressed by the fact that the actors were singing live. I feel as though the whole world has been put under some kind of spell and I'm the only one standing here saying... since when is it impressive that a person actually sings live!?  Has this not been done since the beginning of the arts during the Greek and Roman empire? I'll save you the energy it will take you to look this answer up: Yes it has.  I understand that it's never been 'done' in a movie musical before, but trust me, singing live is not a difficult task for people that can actually sing.

Now let us move on to the actors. Let me go ahead and preface these critiques by saying that every single one of these people acted their faces off. They all did a fantastic job with their acting, and should be commended for at least that much.

Hugh Jackman- I actually loved his performance. I thought he could have focused on the singing a little more in the first quarter of the movie, but over all he was fantastic. I know several people think his version of 'God on High' was a little too much, and i'll agree that it could have had a little more variety, but no one can deny that by the end of the movie he had us in the palm of his hands. He took us on a beautiful journey with Jean Valjean, and his singing matched his acting.

Russell Crowe- Shame on Tom Hooper for casting such a pivotal role solely based on looks. He certainly appeared to fit the part, and was even able to somewhat act it, but this man was so apparently scared stiff about hitting the right notes, that he made us miss a vital layer to this man... his relentless conflict with himself. Please take a moment and watch Philip Quast sing the suicide of Javert. It isn't a timid moment that Russell Crowe struggles to portray, but in fact a heart wrenching ballad of internal hatred.

The Factory Girls and Anne Hathaway- I was very confused by the choice to keep all the singing in the factory quiet and speech- like. Why wasn't it fully sung out like the male ensemble during the revolution scenes? It doesn't make any sense. This is a vital scene for Fantine's character and to keep it quaint served no purpose. Here is what it's really supposed to sound like : from the 25th Anniversary Concert Edition.   Anne Hathaway was extremely disappointing to me, and I am quite confused as to why everyone is singing her Oscar praises. She did a beautiful job acting the role, but this is a musical and her singing was 90 % speaking on pitch, with a few quivering outbursts that were called singing. She failed to recognize the power of her character's songs, and instead of using the music to help her character (like many of her male counterparts) she made it seem like it was hindering her from acting to her full ability. This is one of the most important roles vocally and she completely failed. If you listen to her singing, without watching her, it seems like a really bad youtube singer that Simon Cowell would tear apart. This is how 'I dreamed a dream' is supposed to sound.

Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter- These two were great, and although some people exclaim they were too 'over the top', to those people I say... it's the director Tom Hooper's fault for trying to make the first half of the movie so "realistic" that the minute we are bombarded by a fun musical theatre song, it seems out of place. These two were great as their characters and I loved them.

Amanda Seyfried- There are no words to describe how much I HATED her in this role. Sure she did a great job batting her eyes, and making us believe she was the innocent and pure daughter of Valjean. I had two major problems with Amanda in this role. 1) Young Cosette shouldn't be a better singer than old Cosette- and in this case, she was.  2) Cosette is the only lyric soprano in the entire musical of Les Miserables, and the reason being, you are supposed to fall in love with her through her lyrical voice. Amanda sounded awful- and the vibrato in her voice made me want to puncture my eardrums. THIS is what Cosette is supposed to sound like.

Samantha Barks- I was slightly disappointed in Samantha seeing as how she was the only female to transition from the stage version to the movie. If you watch clips of her singing in the stage version she significantly toned down her singing in the movie... why? Her acting was better in the movie than the stage, but why does that mean you have to tone down your awesome song?

Eddie Redmayne- One of my favorite surprises from the movie. His rendition of 'Empty Chairs and Empty Tables' was perfection. I wish that Anne and Samantha would have watched him sing this song to understand that you don't have to sacrifice great vocals to achieve even better acting. He was the best combination and example of using your singing to fuel your acting forward. Bravo to him.

Aaron Tveit and Male Ensemble- These men were basically what revived the movie for me.
Their spunk, charisma and beautiful voices brought me back into the game and completely changed the whole disdain I had had up until their entrances. Bravo gentlemen!

Lastly, I wanted to mention what a shame it was that one of the most beautiful characters in the whole show was completely diminished to near nothing: The orchestration.  It is another fault of Tom Hooper, who chose to make the beautiful and stunning orchestrations of Les Miserables, simply background music. They really are a character of their own, and to see them reduced to such a state was heart breaking.

The movie was visually beautiful, and it was neat to be able to observe this story in a setting other than the stage for once, but over all, the movie fell terribly short. I just cannot wrap my head around casting lead actors, in a movie musical that has no more than 10 spoken lines, that cannot sing. There is a difference between being able to carry a tune (which all of them were capable of) and being able to truly SING. I would NEVER want to pick up the movie soundtrack for this version of Les Miserables- and isn't that truly unfortunate? It would have been better for everyone involved if they had pre-recorded or dubbed the majority of them.

In other words, the only thing I found truly Miserable was this version of my favorite tragic, beautiful story.


2 comments :

  1. Courtney....oh Courtney. How can I say YESSSS!!!! Exactly!!!!! to everything you just said?

    I didn't even think of the reason Master of the House was so weird...but that's it!!

    And the "vibrato"...that's the exact word I was trying to think of...I kept calling it a "trill"...Oh Amanda Seyfried.

    So true about Marius/Enjolras/and the male ensemble. Bravo!!

    And bravo to you for an incredible review.

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  2. and this is why i trust your opinion on just about everything :)

    and now i don't have to feel like i'm missing out on something for not having seen it yet.

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