(Ed. Note: If you found this post by searching for something about killing yourself, please click here and read this other thing I wrote. I wrote it for you.)
I saw Les Miserables (the movie not the broadway show or the book) on Christmas. And I was all poised to come here and start with an hilarious riff of jokes about how the movie was directed by the same guy who directed the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics and that if you found yourself riveted by the 14 hour coverage of british people running around a field on your TV screen while you had no idea what was going on or why, then you would probably also love the similarly endless spectacle that is Les Miserables. For the non-French speakers, Les Miserables literally translates from French to English as “you will be absolutely miserable watching this film.”
Overall Rating: 3 guillotines (out of 10)
I would have awarded the film a fourth guillotine, but I used it to kill myself during the 7th hour of the movie.
Major spoilers follow, but here are 5 reasons why I didn’t love it:
1) The story is really bad
Although I had heard the music from Les Mis, I had not seen the broadway show or read the book. So I didn’t know the story, and I was really looking forward to finding out whether the French would once and for all free themselves from Napoleon, who as you may recall from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was quite the hot head (despite cooling off at the water park).
The main problem with the movie’s story is that it takes what could be a great story and ruins it time and time again. If you’re conditioned to seeing movies that consider things like “pacing,” “plot,” or “character development,” then you will be disappointed to find that Les Mis, the movie, doesn’t give any of these factors their due.
For example, in the first act of the movie, Anne Hathaway plays a factory worker who gets fired for refusing to bone her manager. As the sole breadwinner in her family, her termination means that she won’t be able to support her beautiful and important daughter. I know she is beautiful and important because the movie told me so. I had not actually met this wonderful little person yet or seen her interact with her mother in any way whatsoever.
To support her daughter, Mademoiselle Hathaway takes up a new job as a prostitute and decides to sell her body – sexually and toothily – to support her family daughter. This is no doubt an amazing premise for a film. In fact, another masterpiece of our lifetime proceeded along an almost identical path. How can anyone forget Demi Moore’s Striptease?
In most movies, a story like Hathaway’s would be the whole movie. In Les Mis, which is at its core a broadway show, we learn her fate in the course of one and a half songs, which was particularly frustrating because Hathaway is a really great actor and singer and I was totally expected to see her boobs like in Love and Other Drugs.
It feels frustrating and manipulative to tell so much in such a short period of time. This style works on broadway because musicals typically cover story arcs that are much bigger in scale than movies. We follow a number of characters, have an intermission to digest what just happened, and then expect resolutions that wrap the show up in a nice little bow. It’s not a big deal when a character ages 15 years during the intermission and we come back from a binge of Diet Coke and Twizzlers to see that we have a new main character.
2) The Director made choices that made the story appear even worse.
Likewise, in Broadway shows there is often a lot of stuff happening on the outskirts of the stage that adds to the experience. So while one person may be singing the song, the chorus, dancers, and other performers are telling little stories of their own during that song. This adds to the story because viewers can process the bigger picture as they hear the lyrics that push the plot.
This movie adaptation relied way too much on close ups of the actors that ripped the larger context right out from under us. At times, this worked really well. For instance, I found most of Anne Hathaway nailed it because she emotes when she sings. Her singing actually added a whole lot to the song that I knew from when my little sister used to sing it relentlessly in the living room when I was trying to watch a rerun of Saved by the Bell.
Here’s what Director Hooper chose to show every time Russell Crowe (Javert) was singing:
Perhaps if I had been able to see anything more than Crowe’s massive grill, I might have been more interested by this movie.
3) The Live Singing Actually Got in the Way
I was so excited for this movie because every time I saw a different movie, I got to watch the preview and hear about how exciting it would be to see a live action musical with real singing instead of pre-recorded singing.
The problem with this “innovation” was that it required them to film the whole movie on a soundstage, which makes the whole thing feel like you’re watching actors sing and perform on a stage. I believe that’s called Broadway. And if I wanted to see a Broadway musical, I could have seen this one for the 15 or so years that it was playing on Broadway. The movie was a chance for the director to add to the story by using real life places (like France, for instance) to show some context around the story. Instead, it feels a little hokey.
4) The theater that I went to was really hot
You try sitting for 5 and a half hours watching people sing on screen in a theater that is 220 degrees. See how much you enjoy it.
5) I made the review as long as the movie
So if you haven’t given up on this piece of shit that I’m writing, then go out right away and see Les Mis. You’ll love it!