It's no secret that Les Miserables remains one of my all-time favourite musicals and holds a very special place in my heart. A few weeks ago I wrote about my thoughts on sharing Victor Hugo's classic tale with the world when the feature film version goes into wide release on Christmas Day, and I expressed my concerns over how the film would resonate with uber-fans of the mega-musical. I was treated to an advance press screening this past Wednesday in Toronto, and found myself tearing up as I watched an audience full of movie-goers (and Les Miserables virgins) hear the opening notes of Boubil and Schonberg's glorious score.
Is the film perfect? Of course not. Does it serve its purpose and will the general movie going public enjoy it? I certainly think so. In the interest of full-disclosure I should state that I've seen the stage version more times than I can count, can recite the score in three different languages and have a knowledge of the material so intimately familiar that even the smallest change jarred my viewing experience and made the overall film harder to enjoy. That being said, as someone who is proud to call herself a 'Mizzie', it was a thrilling experience to watch the material come to life in Tom Hooper's feature film adaptation.
The film doesn't lack for star power, with Hugh Jackman in the role of Jean Valjean, a man who steals a loaf of bread to save his sister's dying son and spends nineteen years in a harsh French prison to pay for his crime. Jackman is an excellent Valjean, showing incredible range as he goes through a journey to find redemption in a world which showed him little forgiveness. While Jackman struggles with some of the score's more difficult moments (Bring Him Home is known in musical theatre circles for being notoriously difficult to sing), his compassion and empathy shine through and more than make up for any vocal struggles. The same is true for Anne Hathaway, who many 'Mizzies' had initial concerns about when an early version of her 'I Dreamed A Dream' trailer leaked this past summer.
The leaked trailer enraged hardcore fans who didn't like the subdued and frail version of the classic song; however, on screen it works spectacularly well. As Fantine, Anne descends down a road so dark that she never has any hope of recovery or redemption, making her hopelessness evident in her beautiful delivery of 'I Dreamed A Dream'. Shot entirely in one take, Anne breaks hearts as she breathes new meaning into the lyrics many people have come to know so well. I think the Oscar buzz surrounding Anne's performance is not only well deserved, but may prove accurate come February when I believe she will take home the statuette.
While there is much to rave about in Les Miserables, there are weak spots that I fear may upset 'Mizzies' and regular film audiences alike. For instance, when I heard that Russell Crowe had been cast as Valjean's nemesis Javert, I was concerned as to how he would handle an iconic (and difficult) song like 'Stars'. At the time, I remember thinking that even if he was vocally underwhelming, he was a great fit for the Javert character which should have been able to overcome lack-luster vocals. Unfortunately, due to rigid acting and Tom Hooper's decision to have the actor's sing live, Crowe comes across as awkward and when he sings he is clearly out-classed by his cast mates.
The rest of the cast impress with their ability to tackle difficult material, with Samantha Barks and Eddie Redmayne as Eponine and Marius emerging as the real surprises of the season in terms of both acting abilitiy and vocal chops. Any girl who has spent her life being 'Team Epo' will undoubtedly be pleased with the gorgeous rendition of On My Own delivered by Barks, and Redmayne elevates Marius to heartthrob status which often is not the case on stage.