Digital Journal: Les Miserables an awful adaptation of Broadway musical

Hollywood does it again – transforms an iconic musical into a laughable mess

I am a big fan of Les Miserables the stage show having watched it live twice.  I also have watched the 10th anniversary cast of Les Miserables – the dream cast over and over again. The music, the singing and the performances always blows me away.

Here is my latest review or read it on Digital Journal.
Les Miserables an awfl adaptation of the Broadway musical

There has been a lot of buzz around Les Miserables, the Hollywood film starring Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean and Russell Crowe as Jalvert. There were reports that women came out of the theatre in tears. The truth is, I was one of them.

Being a fan of the Broadway musical, and having heard good feedback from family members, I was eager to watch the film. However, ten minutes into the movie, I began to realize that this was going to be a painful 2.5 hours to sit through.

Les Miserables, a musical adapted from Victor Hugo’s French historical novel published in 1862, is not the third longest playing Broadway musical for no reason. Fans of the musical can probably sing or say every lyric in the show. They probably have watched the show live more than once or have watched or own the anniversary stage production editions on DVD. I consider myself a fan of the Broadway musical.

Given that Les Miserables the movie is not a stage show, there is a lot to be said about the poor choice of filming techniques used in the movie. The endless shaky hand held close-ups of the actors were incredibly distracting to say the least. Seriously, did we need to see up each actor’s nose in every single shot? The sadness and misery seemed forced upon us with the constant dreary rain pelting down on the actors as they cried and sang. And why did everyone have to be crying while they were singing? It was as if the director was holding up a sign saying, “Okay this is the sad part everyone, start bawling!”

What surprised me was the amateurish editing of the scenes considering this was a big budget Hollywood film. I am not sure if I can pinpoint exactly what the problem was but it seemed that the big musical numbers were not choreographed well or perhaps the focus of the scenes was lost since the camera spent a lot of time flying around the room for no particular purpose. This was most apparent in the Master of the House scene (which, by the way, usually has me in peals of laughter) where Thernadier and his wife, the comic relief, are supposedly being funny stealing objects from their guests who are completely unaware of their shenanigans. Unfortunately, the actors and the camera seemed to be “winging” it with no sense of direction. Thernadier and his wife seemed to be running around the other actors in the room, and for the most part, I couldn’t tell what they were doing. The lack of thought behind the choreography and cinematography of the scene made a funny scene an incredible yawn.

As a side note, this same scene in the 10th anniversary Dream Cast production of Les Miserables with Jenny Galloway as “Madame Thénardier”and Alun Armstrong as “Thénardier” was performed in a stationary spot on the stage in front of a solitary microphone with no special effects or props. Galloway and Armstrong’s chemistry, body language and singing ability brought the packed house down into gales of laughter. They played with the words and double meanings in the lyrics to bring humour to the scene.

Welcome, Monsieur, sit yourself down
And meet the best innkeeper in town
As for the rest, all of ’em crooks:
Rooking their guests and crooking the books
Seldom do you see
Honest men like me
A gent of good intent–lyrics from Master of the House

In the movie version, the performances of Sacha Baron Cohen as Thernadier and Helena Carter as Mme Thernadier were boring and their singing was bland. Even if you give me the excuse that that these actors are not singers, why couldn’t they at least try to sing and act from their hearts? Nothing about that scene was remotely funny. The lack-lustre performances, poor direction, lack of choreography and the editing ruined what could have been a hysterically funny scene.

So what are my thoughts on Anne Hathaway’s performance of Fantine? All I can say is that it was okay but pales to Ruthie Henshall’s performance in Les Miserables’ 1992 London’s stage show. During Hathaway’s performance of “I Dreamed a Dream”, I felt emptiness instead of empathy. It wasn’t necessarily Hathaway’s fault because the director didn’t give the audience enough time to get to know her. It seemed that Fantine transformed in less than a minute from a beautiful young girl into a toothless, bald, rag tag prostitute. It was difficult to connect with Fantine or even care about her plight.

The style of storytelling is crucial in bringing the emotions and the drama onto the screen especially when translating a musical into a movie. The director and producers either did not know how to evoke these emotions or their Hollywood schedule forced them to rush through the production. Alas, this lack of direction and character development made the characters seem flat and lifeless.

Despite this, not everything was bad. I commend the performances of the child actors whose singing and acting were refreshing and provided relief in between the other scenes. Unfortunately, their appearances in the movie were too far and few to keep this Titanic of a movie musical afloat.
I know I’m probably going to receive a lot of flack from Hugh Jackman fans, including those of my friends, for writing such a negative review. But it seems, I’m not the only one who did not enjoy the movie.

Why I walked out of Les Miserables

I wasn’t the only one who hated almost every minute of it. At work the next day, a colleague quietly admitted to having watched it stony-faced as the cinema audience sobbed around her. Anthony Lane, one of the world’s most eminent film critics, also demolished it, saying: “I screamed a scream as time went by.”

Les Misérables is about poverty, pain, isolation, frustration, suffering. The songs are, in every way, “big”. And that’s where, for me, it fell so woefully short. Where Hugh Jackman, as the long-suffering central character Jean Valjean, imprisoned for 17 years for stealing a loaf of bread, should have soared in moments of anger or pain, his vocals died. Instead of following through on the long, sustained notes – of which there are many in Les Mis – he cut them off with a weak, nasal vibrato. It was as if Jackman was afraid to go for it. — Emma Gosnell, The Telegraph

My rating for this movie is 1/5 stars.  If you are a lover of Les Miserables, I highly recommend you watch the 10th anniversary Dream Cast Les Miserables instead of the movie.

So in honour of the real Les Miserables, I invite you to watch the 10th anniversary Dream cast. Have a seat, kick up your feet. I’ll bring you some Arabic coffee and we can enjoy an entertaining and musically brilliant performance of Les Mis.

Dream team 10th anniversary Les Miserables

with Spanish subtitles

with English subtitles

Dream cast:
Música/Music: Claude-Michel Schönberg.
Letras/Lyrics: Alain Boublil, Jean-Marc Natel.

Colm Wilkinson, “Valjean”.
Philip Quast, “Javert”.
Ruthie Henshall, “Fantine”.
Jenny Galloway, “Madame Thénardier”.
Alun Armstrong, “Thénardier”.
Lea Salonga, “Eponine”.
Michael Ball, “Marius”.
Michael Maguire, “Enjolras”.
Judy Kuhn, “Cosette”.
Anthony Crivello, “Grantaire”.
Adam Searles, “Gavroche”.
Hannah Chick, “Young Cosette”

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