Screen adapatation of classic musical leaves audiences singing

[pullquote1 quotes=”true” align=”center”]Despite mixed reviews, Les Misérables transcends past roductions[/pullquote1]

BY SARA BLANK ’14
Opinion & Editorial Editor

Along with an overflow of pandemic fan excitement, the Christmas Day opening of Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables on the big screen brought mixed reviews. As one of the cult followers of the beloved musical who obsessively scanned the then-upcoming musical’s Facebook page with crazy eyes at odd hours, I feared I would find disappointment in this production as a result of my anticipation for it. Thankfully, the film did not fail to produce.

I am incredibly thrilled with how the movie turned out, contrary to the opinions of some, as I believe Tom Hooper offered a magnificent and groundbreaking film that proved to not only do justice to the stage production, but surpassed it in terms of imagery and vividness.

To me, the most impressive aspect of the movie was the sterling depiction of post-revolutionary France, which offers a clarity the stage production cannot. With the ability to create deformities and portray the nasty misfortune of disease and poverty at this time, very little was left to the imagination (in the best possible way), and the audience was immediately thrust into the dilapidated and depressing world of Les Misérables. By clearing up small quibbles I had with the play, the film enhanced the overall experience for me. I was no longer wondering how the barricades functioned or doing Google searches on what “the pox” looked like (I do not recommend you do this). By introducing such vibrant and brilliant depictions that could not be presented on stage, I found myself enjoying the overall experience all the more, as I felt much more inside the show than in front of it.

Of course, I was not blind to the negative aspects of the production. While the talent was rife, the lack of singing abilities (looking at you, Russell) stuck out like a sore thumb. A sore, supporting actor thumb. Similarly, I was frustrated by “At The End of the Day,” where using only the female company to perform the song detracted from some of the power and muscle that baritone voices give the number.

I loved Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the Thénadiers, but in some ways, I found their character portrayals untraditional. While they are extremely talented and offer enjoyable performances, they also acted more seriously than these parts are normally played, taking away some of the comic relief these characters are often meant to offer. In fact, the only time in the movie I found myself laughing was at the ridiculousness of Eddie Redmayne (Marius) who, for some reason, grinned like a buffoon as Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean) conveyed his incredibly dark and sad history to the young man. This reaction on Redmayne’s part made absolutely no sense to me, and in fact bothered me for quite some time after the show ended.

While the cast included a number of renowned superstars, what a magnificent debut for the slew of young actors such as Daniel Huttlestone (Gavroche!). With emotionally moving and spirited performances, the casting was spot on for these youngsters. While I have felt apathetic (if not distasteful) toward Anne Hathaway since she shed her Princess Diaries roots, I was definitely wowed by her performance, which I found to be surprisingly powerful and commanding. Similarly, Samantha Barks (Eponine), a clear fan favorite both in character and performance, offered a beautiful and tear-jerking presentation that left nothing to be desired other than an explanation as to how Marius could ever deny her love. (“I just, like, really relate to Eponine” – Every teenage girl, ever.)

I found the finale to be the most moving song, as it should be, leaving the audience with not a single dry eye. Although I missed the duet between Eponine and Fantine, I believe the finale certainly left just the right balance of awe, sadness and resolution for the audience to chew on for the remainder of their holiday vacations.

[three_fourth]Of course, I found myself in tears throughout the entire film (and in the months preceding it, whenever the trailer came on), and ultimately I believe the film not only does the play justice, but also offers a sense of clarity and further elaboration that the stage production cannot. This kind of a production is revolutionary, so to speak, and sets the stage for a whole new future of filmed musicals. I can certainly say I heard the people sing, and I’m glad I did.[/three_fourth]
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Review Rating:
A-
Performances in Misérables help the musical adapt to the screen.

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Questions? Email Sara at sblank@fandm.edu.

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