I have seen the stage production of Les Miserables dozens of times and even the most amateur casts leave my “heart full of love.” From the young age of 13, when my parents first took me to the show to this day, I have “dreamed a dream” of seeing it on the silver screen. Now finally, “The time is now, the day is here…”
To ask me to critique Les Miserables is like asking someone to critique their child. Even the items that I may look at improving, doesn’t detract the absolute deep and profound love I have for this show.
So, after seeing dozens of productions, listening to a half a dozen different cast recordings thousands of times, watching the concert version on DVD over and over and of course reading Victor Hugo’s novel, how does the movie version measure up?
As I write this review, I’ve already seen it twice. Once at the press screening and once in an advanced screening that I hosted for 430 people. During the advanced screening, I asked how many people were seeing Les Miserables for the first time. As it is so much a part of my life, I could only image that a few people would raise their hands as newcomers. I was shocked when over half of the people raised their hands.
Above all else, this is what I love most about the movie version. The opportunity for this amazing story and music to touch the lives of so many more than just those who have been afforded the opportunity to see it on stage. Now, Les Miserables will be recognized in most households rather than just those who love theater. During this holiday season, I consider this to be one of the greatest gifts given.
As the music booms through the surround sound and the sweeping cinematography cascades us into the world of Jean Valjean one can’t help being drawn into the breathtaking emotional spectacle.
We first meet Valjean as a prisoner serving time for stealing bread to feed his family. After being imprisoned for 19 years he ventures into a cold hard world where there is little forgiveness and his record keeps him from being able to get shelter or work. Full of hatred and bitterness he offers the world just as much anger as it seems to offer him.
All this changes when a priest shows him love and forgiveness, granting Valjean the opportunity to live a new life full of charity and kindness. For those out there who have not seen the show, I don’t want to spoil much more. I will only say that we journey with Valjean in a story of love, redemption, service and forgiveness.
So, despite my great bias and love of the stage production, was the movie any good? A resounding yes! It is different than live theater (of course) and because it is not limited by the need for scene transitions and costume changes it has the ability to do much more! With a few rearrangements, some simple improvements and additions to songs, the story comes together in a new and fresh way that lends to the massiveness that is Hollywood.
And to answer everyone’s question, can Russell Crowe sing? Yes! He has a different voice than most of those in the cast and it works well to set his character a part. Anne Hathaway captures everyone’s heart with “I Dreamed a Dream” and Hugh Jackman whisks you into the world of Valjean with the perfect amount of tormented past and hopeful future.
There were moments I wished they hadn’t rushed through (the end of the barricade scene) and embellishments that I adored (Master of the House). As a Les Mis lover, I could nit pick all the things I wish they had done differently but when it comes down to it, when I play the newly bought soundtrack, I still cry. The movie exceeded my expectations and I expect to see it several more times in the coming weeks. I highly encourage you to do the same.
By all accounts, it may not be the perfectly written musical, contain spot-on casting, or please every audience member. But, there is a reason that it’s London’s longest running, and the US’s 3rd longest running musical in history. Les Mis is a story of hope and love that is driven into our soul with profound and gut wrenching music. It’s unforgettable and the movie adaptation may change your life just as the stage production changed mine 20 years ago.