12/01/13 - Film review: Les Misérables

Anyone who knows me at all well knows that I am huge musical theatre fan.  It's been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember; as long as there's someone singing, I'll probably love it.  So it's not surprising that I was insanely excited to see the much-anticipated 'Les Miserables' film.  Unfortunately, I had an essay due in on the release day (Friday 11th January), but knowing I had tickets booked for the evening was the best motivation possible.

Les Mis is one of my favourite musicals but I've never actually seen it onstage.  I was in a production of it once...but it was the cut-down school's version and I was 11 so that barely counts.  While I have seen the 25th Anniversary Concert DVD and the non-musical film adaptation, seeing this movie on the big screen is the closest I'm going to get to seeing it properly any time soon.  And because we booked tickets online, we got a free poster!  So now I'll have this watching over me from my wall...not bad.

Now onto the actual film.  I'll try and keep this post as spoiler-free as possible for people who don't know the story, although I suspect most people who to go see it will have at least a general idea of the plot.  Basically it's the story of a convict, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), who breaks parole and makes a new life for himself, spending the whole film evading Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) who is determined to bring him to justice.  Alongside this, there's the burgeoning romance between Amanda Seyfried's Cosette and Eddie Redmayne's Marius, an idealistic young revolutionary in Paris at the height of the French Revolution.  

The star turn, however, has to be Anne Hathaway as Fantine, Cosette's mother who (unavoidable spoiler, I'm afraid) dies fairly early on in the film.  The song most people will be familiar with is her heart-wrenching ballad 'I Dreamed A Dream'...but trust me, all thoughts of Susan Boyle will be far from your mind as you watch this stunning performance.  In my opinion, that Oscar nomination was well-deserved.

One of the best features of this adaptation is the fact that all the songs were filmed live, rather than prerecorded in a studio and lip-synched on set.  While this is the usual practise and works very well for most musical films, the raw emotion portrayed in the vocal performances is what makes the film and that could never have been put across as effectively through studio recordings.  Some have said it makes the soundtrack a little odd as you are only listening to the powerful acting, but that's a minor qualm.  

As you may be able to guess by the title - which translates literally as 'The Miserable Ones' or 'The Wretched' - and the plot outline, this isn't exactly a feel-good comedy.  I would recommend taking tissues, particularly if you (like me) are prone to tears.  There was a certain moment (I won't say what it was) which, even though I knew it was coming, made me sob.  But then something happened directly after it which I was not prepared for and it just broke me.  I was literally uncontrollably sobbing, which is frankly embarrassing and not easy to do silently.  My friend sitting five seats down from me said he could hear me, and at the end of the film the woman sitting next to me asked if I was okay.  

However, this isn't to say that the film is hideously depressing; yes, there's a lot of death - it's set during the French Revolution, for goodness' sake! - but there are some lovely moments of light relief, particularly when Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter are onscreen, and the overall message of the film asserts that love and compassion are the most important gifts a person can give another.  And I think that's a pretty good message to instill in people.  There are some very stirring lyrics to do not only with love, but freedom and the future as well.  It's hard not to come out of the cinema feeling a little inspired along with being emotionally drained.

Have you seen Les Mis?  Did it live up to your expectations?  Let me know in the comments!

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