Les Misérables: A Way-Too-Detailed Movie Review (No spoilers!)

It was with tremendous excitement and years of waiting that I entered the movie theater today to see my favorite show up on the screen for the first time.

 

Overall, my position on this movie is right in the middle, leaning toward it being very good. But it isn’t that I’m indifferent: Rather, it’s that I absolutely loved about half of the film, and thought the other half could have been done better. The parts I loved and disliked were interspersed, though I felt that the first 30 minutes or so were more consistent than the rest.

 

There are a few reasons for my ambivalence, and they go hand in hand. For example, the vast majority of the movie was filmed in close-ups of the characters. On the one hand, this created an incredible depth of character that I have never before seen in staged versions of Les Mis. I found myself knowing these characters in new and amazing ways, which is a tremendous achievement considering that I’ve been listening to this show on loop since I was five. On the other hand, these frequent close-ups meant that the director didn’t really take advantage of the sets much of the time, and the characters tended not to move around a lot, which sometimes came off as a little boring.

 

Another impression from all the close-ups is that there was a little too much weeping. I realize the irony of pointing out that the characters in a show called Les Miserables are too miserable, but nevertheless I wanted to see the characters smile once in awhile, if just for a moment. Something I teach my students is that one of the most beautiful things that an audience can see on stage or on screen is a person trying to smile through their tears – it shows that they are still fighting, and that they want to be happy, which makes us appreciate all the more the fact that they are so distraught.

 

Next, consider the live performances (for those of you who don’t know, Les Mis is the first musical movie in which all performances were recorded live on set). The benefit of this is that it made for an unprecedented level of believability (Anne Hathaway in particular took the gold for a breathtakingly vulnerable performance – see below).

 

Anne Hathaway as Fantine in Les Mis

 

The negative consequence of live singing, however, is that much of the singing was not its best. This was probably unavoidable, though – as someone who has sung Les Mis countless times, I know firsthand that it is an incredibly challenging score to sing, let alone to sing any given song the 100-times-in-a-row that is necessary for a professional film shoot.

 

I don’t want to say anything negative about specific actors, but the consequences of live performance included:

 

1) Overuse of vibrato (in some actors)

 

2) Underuse of vibrato (in others)

 

3) Lack of dynamic range – the volume was relatively stagnant throughout the movie. My theory on why this happened is that the singers each had an earpiece playing live piano music, but the movie was orchestrated later on. This means that each singer is singing the way they would to a piano, and not the way they would to an orchestra.

 

All in all, however, I think that the positive outweighed the negative. Les Mis has always held a very special place in my heart, but I don’t think that it’s ever been as real for me as it was today. So by all means, see this movie, and drop a comment about what you thought!

 

PS: For those of you wondering – Yes, it was extremely weird for me to hear “One Day More” and for it not to be about gluten-free food substitutes. I’m thinking they should have used my lyrics instead – it would have made for an interesting plot twist : )

2 Responses to “Les Misérables: A Way-Too-Detailed Movie Review (No spoilers!)”

  1. Marnee says:

    I totally agree with the point on volume – to me that was the main, primary, screaming issue of the movie… the occasional singing foibles wouldn’t have jumped out to me so much if I weren’t always on the edge of my seat thinking, “Is this actor capable of the powerful notes? Where is the volume and power and umph?” I mean, I feel like there’s a certain quality you can hear in a Broadway performer with a powerful belt who is holding back and singing softly… and it’s okay that I didn’t feel that in this movie, I didn’t expect that. But the fact that at the climaxes of songs I was looking at the actors thinking, “Hunh, so they can hit the note just fine and do it pretty well, they just aren’t loud enough”… that’s what annoyed me. I totally agree that the close-ups added a whole new element to the characters… overall it was an awesome experience. Rich wrote a review that I for the most part agree with: http://blog.pcserenity.com/2012/12/les-miserables.html

  2. Marnee says:

    Interestingly – NYTimes quote:

    “This isn’t the first contemporary musical to resurrect the practice of live singing, which was used for both “At Long Last Love,” directed by Peter Bogdanovich, and “The Commitments,” directed by Alan Parker.”

    http://movies.nytimes.com/2012/12/25/movies/les-miserables-stars-anne-hathaway-and-hugh-jackman.html?_r=0

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