Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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Les Misérables

Film #218

THE PLOT

In 19th-century France, Jean Valjean, who for decades has been hunted by the ruthless policeman Javert after he breaks parole, agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s daughter, Cosette. The fateful decision changes their lives forever.

Year 1, Day 215

BEFORE: What a crazy week this is. Plans changed yet again and “Turns Out™” I’ll be able to complete my mission of seeing each of this year’s Best Picture nominees with Les Misérables. I know this is shocking to hear, given my professed love for musicals, but I’ve actually been anticipating Les Misérables for a while. The first trailer (where Anne Hathaway sings the famous “I Dreamed a Dream” song) sent shivers down my spine and got me extremely hopeful. This will be the first time I’ve seen any version of Les Misérables which originally was a novel by Victor Hugo and has since been adapted a lot. Les Misérables has been nominated for a total of eight Academy Awards.

AFTER: When I heard that Les Misérables was all singing, as in wall-to-wall music, I was doubtful. Never before had I seen a musical that was literally all music; there are always a few scenes that are just regular dialogue. But sure enough, there was probably a grand total of five minutes of regular talking throughout the whole film. So what do I think. You’re probably thinking I hated it; how could I enjoy a movie with that much music? Well, believe it or not, I actually enjoyed it. Not all of it (I had a few problems) but overall it was great.

Let me start again with what I disliked before I get into my theories for why I enjoyed Les Misérables so much. Firstly, and one of the biggest question marks for me is a bit of a nitpick issue. The film is set in France, it deals with the French Revolution, and in case you thought these people were anything other then French, their names all fit the country/language. But for some reason, every single character had a British accent. The biggest offender is the little boy in the latter half, Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone). Also on my list of annoyances is the character Éponine (Samantha Barks). Her character plays a fairly major role on a small scale (that’s not an oxymoron) but she’s just introduced and then she’s gone very shortly after. In other words, my problem isn’t with her character but rather her quick development in the film. One last complaint is about the ending, which along with other parts in the film, seemed to just drag on. For me, I think it would have been much better to end the film at one of the climaxes earlier on rather than draw it out and show last bits of character/plot development. I do understand this is an adaptation so it is subject to the source material, but I’d still have liked a more concise ending.

Now for the more interesting section: why I liked Les Misérables. My history with musicals is no secret (read: nothing short of a pure hatred). Yet there was something special about Les Misérables that I liked. I have a few theories about why; three to be specific. And they are: (1) the entire thing was music; (2) the singing was recorded live on set; and (3) some of the singing made sense. By having the entire film be a song, there was no “normal” part for me to look forward to and have an ongoing desire to see more of. Because the entire film was the same, I was in a constant state of listening to singing, which kept my attention up because I couldn’t just space out - I needed to pay attention to the lyrics. One of the big attractions for this film was the fact that instead of recording the music in a studio months before the filming happened, all singing was done live on set. One of my big complaints about musicals is that it is very rare that the singing looks natural. The lip-syncing is very clear normally, but for Les Misérables, that problem was avoided because what you see/hear is what you get. There was no disconnect between the audio and the visuals; it all looked natural. Another theory I have for why I enjoyed it so much is it alleviated another of my annoyances of musicals: random outbursts of singing. My biggest pet peeve is when people just break out into song in the middle of the street or a store and it’s treated as something that happens all the time. While there is plenty of this type of singing (mostly in responses to questions) there’s also a lot of what I deem acceptable singing. Things like morale boosting, slave bonding, and patriotic songs where it’s natural for a large group of people to know all the lyrics and melody to a song.

I was very hopeful going in to Les Misérables and luckily the film didn’t disappoint. While I had a few issues with the film, what surprised me the most was the music. It had the most singing out of all the musicals I’ve seen and yet I found it quite enjoyable for what may have been for any of one to three reasons (see above). There’s lots I didn’t talk about including the beautiful cinematography and terrific performances from Hugh Jackman (as Jean Valjean), Anne Hathaway (as Fontine), and most surprising for me, Russell Crowe (as Javert). But the bottom line is I think Les Misérables is very deserving of it’s Academy Award nominations and is worth a watch by anyone interested in the story or just want to see a good musical. (Side note: I’ve now officially seen all the nominees for Best Picture this year. I’m very proud of that accomplishment.)

RATING: 4 out of 5