No. of Recommendations: 4
[Goofy's note: It's a 1600 page novel and a three hour Broadway show. The movie is longer than most as well, so don't be surprised that my writing went, well, a little long. If it's not your thing, move along.]

I am surprised by the variety of reviews for Les Misérables, which opened yesterday around the world. I hardly expect unanimity for any film, otherwise the votes would all be 100% or 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, and they never are. Still, there is often some semblance of agreement, but in the various opinions I've found in early Les Mis reviews from newspapers, from Facebook friends, and elsewhere I find almost nobody who agrees with anything.

Personally, I enjoyed it even though it does not carry the power of the live performance, which I have seen several times in New York and other venues. I hoped it would, or that it might even be greater, and sadly it's not, which does not mean it's worse, just that it's different.

I don't know who in Hollywood decided that "music" isn't an important part of "musical", but there you have it. Everything seems to point somewhere else. "I Dreamed A Dream" may win an Oscar for Anne Hathaway, but if it does it will be because she wrings every emotional drop from the camera, not the microphone, as she sings. Russell Crowe has what the WaPo reviewer calls "a crooner's voice", which is unfortunate since the role of Javert asks for power-gone-mad, not Bing Crosby on CBS.

Hugh Jackman is excellent, as expected, occasionally riveting, and yet the direction and the attempt to over-emote subtracts rather than adds to the grist of the story, which had more than enough to begin with. Jackman controls the thread of the story from the opening scene to the conclusion and does it admirably, luckily for all of us.

The roles of the older Cosette and Marius are capably, even surprisingly well handled by Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne. The child Cousette and other kids are well cast as well; if only I could say the same for everyone.

Les Mis fans know that the only humor in the otherwise dour story comes in an interlude with a crooked inn-keeper and his wife, (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter), but for some reason it seems more clever on stage than here. Surely both actors are capable, even excellent at playing quirky, and yet it doesn't quite work.

Much has made of the "new" technique of "live singing" rather than "lip synching" as most movie musicals are done. (It's not entirely new; it's been used in pieces in several prior to this.) Supposedly this gave the actors more freedom to "act", which unfortunately (for me at least) means they paid less attention to, well, the score. Do I have a bias because I have heard the songs "more musically" many times before? Probably. Does that mean this is worse? Maybe not, although it detracted from my enjoyment.

I find praise and fault with the direction. For once, there are fewer quick edits and cutaways during the performances, which permits the audience to see and follow the singer. And yet at other times we are distracted by Tom Hooper's wont to overwhelm the screen with the grand sweep of the story through overdone set design: shots of performers walking on vertigo inducting building roofs, cityscapes as dense as the eye can imagine, slaves by the hundreds pulling ships into harbor. It's a curious attempt to be grand and intimate within the same film, and I don't think it quite works.

Overall I still found the story wrenching, the music (mostly) enjoyable, and several of the performances riveting, but the entire enterprise didn't quite hang together, and I am at a loss to explain exactly why. Maybe that's why others can't either, and why it hits so many different notes with so many different people. I had tears on my face at one point, and at the conclusion the audience applauded: more than scattered, less than universal. (But applause in a movie theater? Unusual, to say the least.)

It's been one of the most successful Broadway musicals of all time, curious for a story of unsuccessful revolution (who picks a story where almost everyone dies in such a failed enterprise?); a story of a war in a foreign country of no meaningful consequence to most people, originally written in a foreign language from a novel few contemporaries have read. I don't think this is exactly the formula for success, yet it has worked again and again for decades. Will the film? To some degree, I'm sure, if only because it's pre-sold and comes with so many Hollywood stars attached. Whether it will be judged "good" or not by the paying public is a different matter entirely.

In one sense I am lucky that I saw so much hype; it caused me to recalibrate my expectations, and by that I mean "lower them." I was afraid it was going to be so bad that they were trying to get everyone into the theater during the first week, before word of mouth got around. Had I gone in hoping for the best I surely would have been disappointed. As it was, it wasn't, and I wasn't. Would I go again? Probably not; I'll play the Broadway CD a few more times and be quite content, thanks. But am I glad I went? You bet.
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