News Column

'Les Miserables' Stumbles Behind Other Recent Filmed Musicals

Jan 3, 2013

Chris Vetter

Anne Hathaway

"Les Miserables" director Tom Hooper demanded all his actors sing their parts in front of the camera while acting their roles in the latest film version of this musical based on the French revolution in the early 1800s. Actors weren't recording their parts in a studio, then lip-synching it later on stage. All the performances were live, and microphones were later digitally removed.

The finished result is amazing. Anne Hathaway (playing the role of Fantine, a woman who is destitute and becomes a prostitute) belts out her song with tears rolling down her cheeks. Hathaway (who has sung in the past, such as in the cute kids movie "Ella Enchanted") is a surefire Oscar nominee for best supporting actress. Other actors, from Hugh Jackman to Russell Crowe, also benefit from singing their parts live, rather than in studio.

"Les Miserables" tells the story of Jean Valjean (Jackman), who served nearly 20 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. Once freed, he breaks his parole, changes his name, shaves his beard and becomes a successful business owner. However, he winds up in a life-long cat-and-mouse game where he is pursued by Inspector Javert (Crowe), who is determined to bring Valjean to justice.

The film shows the wide poverty in France, as Hathaway's Fantine loses her job at Valjean's sewing factory because she has a child out of wedlock. Later, Valjean adopts Fantine's daughter, Cosette, and raises her as his own. When Cosette falls in love with a boy who is trying to start a revolution in the streets of Paris, Valjean is conflicted with how to let her go.

One annoyance I have with the plot is that Valjean didn't want Cosette to know he is a wanted criminal. Did she really not know? More than once, they abandoned their belongings and home in the middle of the night to flee from police. I struggle to believe that Cosette was na´ve and unaware of the secret that Valjean was hiding.

While the singing is fantastic and the acting is quite good, the story is dour and depressing. Compared to other recent movies based on musicals, "Les Miserables" comes up a bit short. It doesn't have the magic of "The Phantom of the Opera." It doesn't have the perky, fun upbeat tunes of "Hairspray." It didn't dazzle like "Chicago."

Hooper (who directed "The King's Speech" two years ago) wisely selected Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter to play the roles of inn keepers, and they brought a lot of laughs to a movie that otherwise is far too serious.

"Les Miserables" aims to tug at the heartstrings. My fiance cried; many women sitting around us did too, but I wasn't invested enough in some of the characters to feel their loss.

Shot on a $61 million budget, "Les Miserables" has earned $116 million worldwide through Sunday, according to

Critics were lukewarm on the film, giving it a lower-than-expected 71 percent approval rating at movie-tracking website -- a number that is startlingly low considering it is widely viewed as a likely nominee for best picture. I fully expect "Les Miserables" will win several Golden Globes, and it will have its share of Oscar nominations too. It's a good film, and fans of musicals will definitely enjoy it. However, outside of that niche audience, I'm not sure this movie has the widespread appeal of the other musicals I've mentioned.

Source: (c)2013 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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