This post is basically just going to be a review of Les Mis, but first a bit of whining. It took nearly every ounce of patience and die-hard conviction for my sister and I to coordinate our childless venture to the local theater. Despite frustrations, bickering, limited access to a car, dying phones and an error on my part about the actual movie time, it was completely, 1000 percent worth it.
First the good. No, first the amazing, scene-stealing and breath-taking.
1. Anne Hathaway as Fantine.
My love for Hathaway’s performance is three-fold. First, her singing was stunning, beyond words. She was emotional to an unnerving extent. She was forceful, and passionate, and relatable even in her destitute desperation. In her rendition of “Dreamed a Dream,” she exudes a love so strong that every mother in the room knew beyond a doubt that they were seeing a bit of themselves in her life, a bit of what could have been for any of us if we had been handed her set of circumstances. There is no span than a mother’s love won’t attempt to bridge. There is no cost-to-self that a mother won’t willingly pay. How a childless woman could grasp an emotion so timeless, honest and inalienable is remarkable to me. She is remarkable to me.
Second, Anne Hathaway can be pretty, but honestly, her exaggerated features aren’t really mainstream pretty. She definitely has to work to be Hollywood pretty. For this film, Hathaway not only stripped herself of her hair and makeup, she went a step further. In her willingness to express raw emotion, grief, loss, pain, despair and a resolute determination to keep living in hell in order to support her daughter, Hathaway proves herself willing to do something rare in the world-she was willing to be ugly. To cry ugly. To break and bend and contort her features in grief. Real grief that most women (myself included) will only give into behind closed doors. Alone. With no mirrors. Because we know what it looks like. She did it for millions to see, for millions to criticize.
This is a role she was born to play. I feel privileged to have seen it.
Third, she was haunting. Though Fantine isn’t in most of the movie, though her story isn’t even the focus, her spirit lingers as much as the music of her signature song. Every time I heard a reprise, I longed for her voice to be the one singing. I longed to see her back story, though I knew I never would. I longed to see her at peace, and I credit that longing to Hathaway’s performance.
2. Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche.
Gavroche had me from the moment he sat on the back of a carriage and sang into the camera. He was the heart of the Revolution. He had some glorious, magical mix of being a scamp and an innocent. He was reminiscent of Pip and Oliver and Huckleberry Finn. He was charming and charismatic. To top it off, the boy could sing!
3. The Supporting Ensemble.
Aaron Tveit was the perfect choice as the youth leader of the revolt. He was commanding and gorgeous, rough and idealistic–everything you would need for a revolutionary.
Samantha Barks as Eponine left me wanting her to keep singing and singing. Her voice is a great discovery.
Russel Crowe was very good as Javert, and I disagree with any and all criticisms of his vocal ability.
Amand Seyfried as Cosette. Seyfried has all of the necessary qualities to be Cosette-beauty, innocence, and a killer, clear soprano voice.
Isabelle Allen as the alarmingly gorgeous Young Cosette. Her sweet voice is as endearing as her searing blue eyes.
4. Forgoing a soundtrack.
Kudos to the cast and director for being willing to sing on-camera. It is more difficult but also, more authentic.
Now on to the bad.
The only problem I had with the entire movie came down to one word: casting.
1. Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean.
Ninety-eight percent of my issues with the movie were wrapped up in this casting choice. As much as I love Jackman, as stunning as his physical transformations were in Les Mis, and as superb as his acting skills obviously are, I simply cannot forgive choosing a man who cannot sing well as the lead in this film.
Valjean carries the film in song. He is in nearly every scene, and Jackman’s voice was tolerable at best but shaky and nasal beyond what I could excuse. Most of the songs ended well out of his range. He was not made for this role. It was distracting and disappointing.
2. Helena Bonham Carter as Madame Thénardier.
My major problem here is just that she was Helena Bonham Carter. As soon as I saw her, I wondered to myself if Tim Burton was the director. Carter offered nothing new. She looked, sounded like and acted just like her role in Sweeney Todd.
It was a cheap choice. An obvious choice, and a completely unnecessary one. Partnered with Sacha Baron Cohen, any one could have pulled off the role and been less distracting.
3. Russell Crowe as Javert.
Do not mistake me, Crowe was very good. I loved him as Javert, but had he been cast differently, it could have solved my main issue with the movie: Valjean.
See, if Crowe had slimmed down and played Valjean, then Gerard Butler could have played Javert.
Crowe is just as capable of transformation and intensity as Jackman (see A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man), and he’s a much better singer. Plus, Butler was the freaking Phantom. He would have rocked the rough, pensive, self-righteous, vengeful thing.
There it is–my opinion for all it’s worth.
See this movie. Weep and watch and listen to the whispered sobs and awe of those around you. It’s worth it. It is beautiful and stirring. And worth it.