Here’s why I could never be a professional movie critic, like one who gets paid to write reviews for a newspaper or magazine or website: I have a hard time responding to movies critically. I just judge them on an emotional, gut feeling level. That’s why, even though I know Les Mis has flaws (which I will detail momentarily), I couldn’t help but getting swept up in it. It sucked me in, made me cry, and made me want to clap when the credits rolled – although, of course, I did not do that because I hate when people do that. So even though I might point out some things I did not like about the movie, the truth is that I really loved it, that I’ve been singing the songs nonstop ever since watching it, and that if Les Mis earns any Oscars, it will deserve every one of them.
So let’s get the flaws out of the way so I can talk about the good stuff. The movie felt a bit overlong, and some of the plot coincidences that occur are a little too coincidental. The themes of redemption are a tad heavy-handed and, yes, some of the song lyrics are slightly cheesy. Russell Crowe, as Javert, grew on me throughout the course of the movie, but he was clearly the weak link here – he often looked slightly uncomfortable. Amanda Seyfried, as Cosette, didn’t do much for me either, but I’m not sure if it was because she was bad, or more likely because the role of Cosette is pretty boring to begin with.
But let’s forget all that, because it didn’t much matter to me. Like I mentioned before, I got totally swept up in the movie, and one of the main reasons for that was the big, dramatic musical numbers. There were lots of highlights for me, but if I had to narrow it down, I would say I had four favorites. The first two are obvious: “I Dreamed a Dream” and “On My Own” were favorites before this movie, and remained favorites after the movie too. I also loved “A Little Fall of Rain,” which, tragically, is not on the soundtrack (whaaaat?!) and “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.”
Besides the songs and the beautiful production values (perfect sets, perfect costumes, perfect details), I thought there were some real standout performances here. Let’s start with the obvious: Anne freaking Hathaway. I’ll be honest – Hathaway has been bugging me lately. It’s likely to do with how people have been hyping her performance for ages (and you know she knows it), combined with the fact that I know people are also going to make SUCH a big deal over her cutting her hair and making herself “ugly” for this role. Given all this, I was predisposed to be underwhelmed and annoyed by her performance. But, guess what? When she sang “I Dreamed a Dream,” it killed me – the tears were flowing and I was trying to restrain myself from outright sobbing so my family didn’t laugh at me. She simply blew me away, and the Academy should just go ahead and etch her name on the Best Supporting Actress Oscar now. When she was singing “I Dreamed a Dream,” it was unbelievably intense and raw; it seemed everyone in our theater was choking back tears, and the room was completely still and silent (except, of course, for the sounds of people crying).
Who else was great? Samantha Barks as Eponine. If Hathaway weren’t getting such rave reviews, I truly believe everyone would be talking about Barks as Best Supporting Actress. She previously played the role onstage, and you can tell how wonderful she is at singing these songs. I also loved Eddie Redmayne as Marius – I had no idea he could sing, and he does so well here. I found him a really compelling presence and, let’s be honest, pretty damn easy on the eyes. And finally, I loved Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers – they added the perfect amount of humor and levity to a move that is fairly bleak throughout.
And so, in the end, here’s what I think. I know musicals aren’t everyone’s thing. I know it can be jarring to see someone randomly burst into song. I know the subject matter here is a big downer. I know this movie was specifically crafted to be Oscar bait. I know Russell Crowe is probably better suited to playing gladiators than singing policemen. I know all these things and I don’t care. I’ve been singing “Do You Hear the People Sing?” for the last four days now, and I will probably sing it for the next four days, four weeks, four months, and I want to see this movie again.
My Grade: A- (begrudgingly given, because of the aforementioned flaws, but my heart wants to give it an A++++)
(Image via Refinery 29)