I wanted to love “Les Misérables.” I really did. But for all its soaring musical numbers, the final product just falls flat. The movie promised a lot, but sadly didn’t deliver.
It had so much going for it; an already well loved source material paired with a big name cast. I love musicals and with its setting in a tumultuous period in French history, “Les Misérables” should have been action packed. Plus, it is already nominated for upcoming award shows, gaining Oscar buzz and most critics are already saying that Hathaway is going to easily walk away with the Oscar for best supporting actress. Yet, I found the acclaimed stage musical felt like more of a chore to watch on the big screen than an enjoyable experience.
I think a lot of the reason for the letdown of this film falls on the directing. Though Hooper showed off his skills with “The King’s Speech,” some of his minor foillbles in that film stand out as more egragarious flaws in “Les Misérables.” Hopper has tendency for tedious sequences, but also for over the top emotional appeals. The pandering and begging for tears in this film were just ill-timed. You never got a chance to care about a character before they were whining about their plight. Combined with warbly vocals and frequent camera close-ups, it all comes across as less than genuine. In a theater setting, it is easier to be forgiving of some of these things, but it was just ridiculous and dull in this presentation.
Another major issue with this film is that more so than ever, “Les Misérables” comes across as a soap opera. Here’s the plot: guy steals bread, does some time, breaks his parole and spends the rest of his life on the run from a police guy who just doesn’t give up. Somehow this guy decides it is his responsibility to care for some random dying factory worker’s daughter. This girl grows up, falls in love in less than a day and sings about starcrossed love a whole bunch. Oh, and there’s a war and some ridiculous shenanigans from some thieving hotel owners. It just doesn’t make sense for these people to be together or care about one another, yet we’re expected as an audience to care about them all. “Les Misérables”? Les Sigh. Some of the more bearable songs came from the antics of Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, but their characters appear the most out of place as the film’s comic relief and even in their few enjoyable moments, they seem better suited in something like “Sweeney Todd” than “Les Misérables.”
Finally, the last big issue is the music. Some will praise Hooper’s bold choice to have the actors sing on set for the recording rather than recording the music in a studio and dubbing it over the acting. I would love to praise that choice too, if it didn’t fall so flat. While some of the actors do a passable job in their vocal performances, most fail to enunciate, the singing lacks in the power needed to deliver some of the punch of the lyrics and they often try to cover up their missed pitches with terrible vibrato. I’m sorry, but when you’re singing slightly off key because you’re focusing more on their acting than vocal technique, you leave the audience crying about the pain in their ears rather than the pain in your story. And for a musical like “Les Misérables,” which sings practically everything (many musicals mix spoken dialogue and songs rather than singing it all), a lot of the message just gets lost in bad music. It probably didn’t help that my theater didn’t even have surround sound on, garbling the story even more.
“Les Misérables”: I dreamed a dream that you were better. I think I’ll just wait for the stage show to roll back through town before suffering through that film again.