I Dreamed a Dream But All I Got Was Les Miserables

Les Miserables Poster

Les Miserables Poster

TitleLes Miserables
Genre(s)Drama, Musical, Romance
Director(s)Tom Hopper
Release Year2012
Rotten Tomatoes70%

The King’s Speech was one of my favorite films of 2010, bolstered by an incredible performance from Colin Firth and a heartfelt story of overcoming adversity. It managed to be both a beautiful looking period piece and tell a story worth telling, one that made me feel for the main character in ways I never thought I would. So following that, Tom Hooper decided to tackle the story of Les Miserables and adapt it into a massive musical production, one that would attempt to blend drama and music like never before, forcing the emotion out of every viewer. And the film would very well have done that if not for some missteps in its execution and a very predictable script. Les Miserables has the epic feeling it seeks in both its beginning and ending, but everything in between is a muddled mess of redundancies, inconsistencies, and a blatant disregard of the viewer’s ability to comprehend basic characteristics of film.

Les Miserables takes place in the early 1800s, with the French Revolution serving as a backdrop to a lot of the drama on screen, until the third act of the film. The film opens strong with a beautiful, and chilling scene on a boat with convicts as Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is released on parole by Javert (Russell Crowe). Already the film is moving in the right direction with a great rendition of “Look Down” that demonstrates the talent on display and just how Tom Hooper’s decision for live singing adds an incredible amount of volume to the already powerful songs. Valjean decides to try and start a new life under a new identity, but once discovered, is hunted by Javert throughout the duration of the film. Meanwhile, Valjean saves Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a prostitute, from arrest and vows to take care of her daughter Cosette (played by Isabelle Allen until the film flash forwards to 1832 and Amanda Seyfried plays the older version). Once it’s 1832, the French Revolution plays a bigger role in the story by moving itself to the foreground as revolutionaries plan to make a stand for the poor. The movie may open strong, but once Anne Hathaway’s beautiful version of “I Dreamed a Dream” is sung, everything takes a nosedive.

Yes, the award-worthy performance of this film only amounts to 15 minutes.

Yes, the award-worthy performance of this film only amounts to 15 minutes.

Well, a nosedive might be too harsh of a description; the movie has problems right from the beginning with songs that are way too long, barely move the plot forward, and spell out simple details that could have been inferred by the audience. Inference may not be the best thing to rely on with a film, but when an entire character arc has played out, the last thing that’s required is a song that tells us said character arc in excruciating detail and redundancy. It’s as if the film isn’t aware it’s a film that people are watching and has to let us know both visually and then again orally before it decides the audience understands. But I understand that the songs are the most important part of the film, so one would assume that there would at least be some stand-out songs from the film. And luckily, there are a few, even one that Javert himself delivers despite Crowe’s horrifying monotonous noises that Hooper would have the audacity to let pass as “singing.” It could be since his character is stern and barely fluctuates in emotion that the monotone voice may have been preferred, but it’s just so terrible. Unfortunately all the really good songs like “Look Down” and “I Dreamed a Dream” occur in the first half hour or so of the movie, and then the rest of the songs are barely tolerable with the exception of a handful. The revolutionary songs are great, and definitely add to the epic scale in which Hooper is trying to emulate but a lot of the emotion built in feels contrived due to the stylistic choices made.

I went in knowing Hooper had the intention of making a very depressing film, unfortunately, besides moments with Fantine, I felt nothing. The way the movie is shot in the same style as The King’s Speech makes it look great, especially when flashes of color occur letting the contrasting browns and reds blend beautifully. There’s also tons of sweeping camera movements which take in the grand architecture and set pieces that have been elaborately designed. But then there’s the insane amounts of close-ups to show the actors as they sing and act. The use of live singing adds layers to the performance and it must have been stressful for those who had never done a musical before to act while at the same time singing, something most would not have been trained to do prior. It’s a choice that most actors are able to overcome, but not one of its leads, Russell Crowe. I wonder if the film might have been more enjoyable with highly-trained singers and alright actors but the film would probably have faltered due to how much acting is still the main requirement.

I would take a movie filled with Cohen and Carter being weird and funny over this snoozefest.

I would take a movie filled with Cohen and Carter being weird and funny over this snoozefest.

And really, the cast Hooper has assembled here is quite the spectacle, with Hugh Jackman leading the fray and delivering a great performance as Jean Valjean, and Russell Crowe does great with what little character he’s given in Javert, singing aside. The supporting cast assembled here is great, and pretty much everyone that needs to sing, does a mesmerizing job. Those worth mentioning though are definitely Anne Hathaway, who has been getting tons of praise, and rightfully so, as her performance is easily the best in the entire film, even if it does only amount to a small amount of screen time. Then there’s also Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter who liven things up with some humor, though their characters play against the film’s intent and mostly just contribute to the extremely long runtime. But their performances were much appreciated because of just how dull this movie would have been without their colorful characters.

The major problems with this film are just similar ones that plague most musicals. First of all, the fact that this is supposed to be a soaring epic is hindered by the choice to do the film as a musical. “This is a factory, not a circus,” Valjean states in the early moments of Les Miserables and without him stating it I might have been completely confused. Everyone gives great performances, and generally sing very well, but most of the time the songs just feel like a poor substitution for what could have been said better in plain speech. There’s also just a lot of giant plot points that hinge heavily on coincidences, such as when Valjean finds Cosette. And the love story between Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and Cosette doesn’t feel earned, and that may be because the main story isn’t about those two, it’s about Valjean, so the love angle never gets introduced until halfway through the film. If I was supposed to feel for any of these characters, I didn’t and that’s a problem when the movie itself is trying so hard to make me care. Not only that, but it’s a pretty boring film with tons of predictability and generic characters. If it wasn’t for the performances of the film and the visual spectacle achieved, I’d have even fewer kind words to say. If you don’t like musicals, Les Miserables will not be the film to change your mind, but if you enjoy them, this might be your favorite yet.

Overall: Not Recommended


5 responses to “I Dreamed a Dream But All I Got Was Les Miserables

  1. Mr. Cross? — yes Cross! You watch too many films, you’ve lost the will to live! This is a monumental film, a wonderful experience for those fortunate enough to see it. I loved it, cried throughout, will see it again, and will play the music for ever. FF79

    • Perhaps I have, some days I feel like it. But to each their own, glad you found something to enjoy from it like the many others who are loving it. I assume I didn’t enjoy it because I don’t understand the appeal of musicals.

  2. Well you can hardly do a movie version of a musical without it being a musical, a direct film adaptation of the book would be even longer and probably more “boring”. Marius and Cosette are not supposed to be the main characters, you’re right – they are just meant to represent hope. It did have the epic feel of a big screen movie but also it had to be about the music. Pretty much every actor in the film has a theatre/musical background – and I thought Russel Crowe was brilliant. Just because it’s a musical doesn’t mean it’s not still a movie – and not everyone has the same style voice or as good of a range. Could you take Javert’s character seriously if he was constantly doing mariah carey style vocal riffs and runs?! I thought it was brilliant as did the people around me judging by the round of applause in the screen, both times I saw it at the cinema.

    • Thanks for the feedback! I am aware though that I am in the minority, but my complaints are not with the way the movie is designed, but how poor the writing is. You can make a musical from a musical, but you can’t bring with it all the same elements, because watching a musical on stage is different from watching a movie. There’s less interest in fixing plot holes, and more inclination to rely on coincidences to quickly move the story forward. But you are definitely in the minority for liking Russell Crowe in the film, which isn’t a bad thing, but the film definitely would have benefited from a better singer. I don’t quite understand why he has to sing like Mariah Carey if he doesn’t sing like he did in the film, I think you can easily find a happy medium there. It’s not like anyone else in the film sings like her. But once again, I am aware I am in the minority, and it’s clear Les Miserables is just a story that I do not like. Thank you though for commenting, always great to hear another opinion.

  3. You are not in the minority. I saw it and I love a lot of musicals but I hated this one. The reason? It’s not a musical, it was sold by the studio as a musical, but it isn’t, it’s a fucking OPERA! It’s overlong, contains forgettable songs – only ONE song stands out – not great in a two hour movie that’s almost completely sung, and it’s just generally tireseome. The theater was full and I was in the middle stalls, which is the one and only reason I didn’t leave it. I’m sure the majority of people who went to see this are fans from the original theatre show. I noticed that there were al lot of older people in the auditorium, than there were for the new Transformers movie, which was a key reason for me thinking this way. Thank God the tickets were free, because I would’ve asked for a refund. It really is so unbearable and juts a film that I would watch once to say that I’d seen it. I cannot recommend it at all.

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