Saturday, December 29, 2012

Les Misérables

I hate “Les Miz” so much it takes all my objectivity to concede that “The King’s Speech” director Tom Hooper has adapted it about as well as humanly possible. And to me it’s still a flatulent, hideously overwrought low-art spectacle, a sketch of a story populated by line drawings of characters.

For starters, the student uprising it’s about – the so-called June Rebellion of 1832 – was a historical event of towering insignificance, virtually unremarked upon anywhere but in Victor Hugo’s novel, making the musical’s endless cascade of crescendos (it’s basically one thundering showstopper after another, twenty-five songs in two or three melodies) seem even more disproportionate and overcooked.

Then you get to the plot itself, which Hooper has done well to make clear and comprehensible. Unfortunately, it’s a mess. Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean is the only character with a trace of shading, though he flip-flops between greater-good rationalizations and principle-above-all integrity like a presidential candidate. Russell Crowe’s Javert (a good physical match, though Crowe’s singing range is better left undiscussed) vows to pursue Valjean to the ends of the earth, then inexplicably offs himself out of nowhere. Then there are the muddled battle scenes themselves, at the end of which Valjean flees (toting Eddie Redmayne’s too-boyish Marius) through the sewer, only to emerge sometime later, fresh-scrubbed and bushy-tailed (a few minutes later, he dies of something they had in the 1830s). Have the students won? Lost? Neither? It’s all in a haze.

As Fantine, the wearing-thin Anne Hathaway hams her way through “I Dreamed a Dream” as if Hooper had challenged her to win a Supporting Actress Oscar in less screen time than Judi Dench in “Shakespeare in Love.” The movie’s largely well-cast – I liked Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers, and Amanda Seyfried as doe-eyed Cosette – but Samantha Barks, in the small part of Eponine, makes the strongest impression with her pair of songs about unrequited love. The subject matter is inherently poignant, but there’s so little to any of these characters that the songs can only muster so much power. Who IS Eponine as a person? Who is Marius? Who's Cosette? And as for the leaders of the rebellion, I couldn’t name one of them if it were the only way to get into heaven.

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