Film Review : Les Miserables
● By Justin Buettner
Based off the popular play, Les Miserables is a musical that follows the life of Jean Valjean set in 19th Century France. Having served 19 years in a slave prison camp Jean Valjean changes identities and skips out on parole starting a new life. When the relentless inspector Javert finds him and chases Valjean over the course of decades it sets off a series of events that includes Valjean saving a little girl named Cosette and saving a boy caught in the French Revolution. But will Valjean’s good deeds save his soul?
I loathed this film and quite honestly it was my least favorite film experience of not only the year but perhaps of the last two decades. I disliked the music, I disliked the story and I disliked the way the film was adapted to the screen. Hollywood rarely gets musicals right, especially in the modern era of film. Les Miserables gets the adaption so wrong it is almost laughable. With filmmaking you can bring the audience as close to the action as you want unlike the theater where most of the audience cannot see the nuances of an actor’s face. In addition filmmakers have the ability to show the passage of time using any devices within their imaginations. The theater director’s toolbox is far more limited. So in musicals, such as Les Miserables music helps explain the story, the emotions, and the passage of time. If the music is carried over to a movie word for word the music becomes redundant. I don’t need someone singing that they’re sad when the extreme close up on their face clearly shows that they are indeed sad. Not only that, I found the actors trying to sing opera like songs through their pain stricken crying faces strange and jarring. Worse yet every spoken word in this film, for nearly three hours is sung. Even normal boring conversations are sung. If a man goes to commit suicide he must sing about it for 10 minutes first. If he was listening to the gibberish he was singing he would have realized how incredibly irrational his reasoning for killing himself was.
Perhaps the three hours straight of singing would have been all right if the songs were catchy, had a melody, or at least held my attention. Instead the music all sounded the same, it lacked a melody, and for the most part sounded like nails on a chalkboard to me. Honestly, who wants to listen to depressing music for three hours straight? Which brings me to the story.
Regardless of the awful music and the terrible adaption to the screen, the story itself is riddled with problems. If someone were to remove the music and develop this story to a several season TV show then perhaps the characters and the story would have enough time to develop to become strong. As it stands the story flat out tries to do too much in too little time. For instance, the character of Fantine falls from grace then to death within a ten minute song. How on Earth am I supposed to develop any emotional connection to this character who is disposed of so quickly that it hardly seems fair to say Anne Hathaway had a supporting role in the movie. The same goes for several major characters and story arches in this movie. It is simply impossible to tell a story with this many characters, and this many different story twists effectively in a three hour movie. It doesn’t help that the movie dedicates huge chunks of time to extended musical numbers that hardly move the movie forward.
I know the movie has miserable in the title, but I don’t understand why people would want to flock to see a movie that just highlights misery for almost three hours straight? With the exception of a pair of thieves played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter this movie is completely joyless. It is just not a fun movie to watch. A huge part of the film features extreme close ups of dirty faces belted out bad music with tears in their eyes. Not my idea of a good time.
The few positives I will give the film are this, the production values were great and the acting was solid. The sets, costumes, and even the dirty faces and teeth looked spot on. This did give the movie a flair of authenticity. The acting was actually quite good despite what they were being told to do. Honestly, how hard must it have been to sing like that while looking like you were in so much pain? I really thought the entire cast did a great job performing their respective parts.
How does my disdain for this movie translate to the general public though? I generally do not like musicals unless it’s an animated children’s film. So people who really like musicals will have an entirely different experience than I did. People who are big fans of the music and the play will definitely find a lot to like here. The film is an extremely faithful adaption of the play. People who enjoy sad films also will not mind the depressing story either. So while I really disliked most of what I had to see I will recognize that there is a huge audience that will enjoy this film. I’d go so far to say fans of the story will love this film and good for them as it is much more fun liking a film than disliking a film. However I will end the review by saying I wouldn’t wish this film on my worst enemy, I thought it was that bad.
Films like Les Miserables : Hugo, Rent and Chicago.
Justin Buettner is Style's resident movie dude! How did he get this role? Well, he graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a Bachelor of Arts in film Production and a duel minor in Animation and Business with an emphasis in the entertainment field. He later went on to work on several independent films in various key roles including writer and later worked in the special effects field as a motion capture artist. He has since relocated to the Sacramento area with his family and continues writing for small independent films in addition to his movie reviews for Style Magazine.