Right up front, I should tell you that I started to weep from the very first note of “Les Miserables.” My emotions were played and I remained a weepy mess throughout the entire 2 hours and 38 minutes of the movie.
That doesn’t mean it was the greatest thing to ever happen to me at a movie. I’ve cried before, sometimes even during a trailer (“Man of Steel”). Every time someone started to sing, my eyes got watery again. It wasn’t all out sobbing, like the poor woman sitting on my left. My wife was on the right. It was consistent and there was nothing I could do about it. Be happy that I am man enough to admit it, without shame.
Briefly, “Les Miserables” is the story of paroled felon Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and his path to redemption and constant avoidance of police officer Javert (Russell Crowe). Valjean, under assumed names, begins to care for Cosette, the daughter of Fantine (Anne Hathaway). Valjean adopts Cosette after Fantine’s tragic death and raises her to become Amanda Seyfried. All this happens with the French Revolution happening around them over a number of years.
With that out of the way, we need to talk about a few major things that are wrong with this film. The two big problems are pacing and cinematography.
When you go to a stage musical, they expect you to clap. The performers feed off applause. At a movie, people sometimes clap at the beginning and maybe at the end. Instead of a pause for applause, most movie musicals still give the viewer a beat to relax between scenes/songs. Things move so quickly in this film that there is no time to breathe. The scene cuts are fast and harsh and never allow the viewer to process what just happened, which leaves some viewers with little understanding of what just happened and others feeling rushed. Yes, the movie is already more than two and half hours long, but a half-second between songs wouldn’t add that much to the run time.
The other problem: The songs are what drive the story, so it would be easy to write off my other complaint by saying, “The song is what matters,” and I’d almost buy it. The problem is that every solo is filmed exactly the same way. Singer in the bottom corner of the frame, usually the right side, with minimal background visible. The first time it’s down is very effective. We get a close-up of Jackman singing his heart out and crying like mad. When the technique gets used throughout the film, it’s distracting. It’s even used during Crowe’s solos, although the camera does pull back to give us a grander picture of 1800s Paris around him. Unfortunately, this isn’t done to change up what we’ve been seeing but because the story and character demands it. It is interesting to note that this is done for Crowe, the weakest vocalist of the primary cast. I’m inclined to give him more of a break than others, but I’m a softy and Crowe is one of my favorite actors. Call it a mulligan in an otherwise superior cast.
Those two flaws are nearly fatal. If you are a casual movie-goer, your time might be better spent somewhere else. If you are a diehard fan of “Les Miserables” you might be able to overlook a pacing shortcoming. You already know what’s happening and probably know the words. You’re really just there to see and hear someone new singing them. If you fall in the middle (as my wife did), maybe you really like musicals but somehow “Les Miserables” hasn’t been something you invested in, this film version will likely end up in a similar middle ground. You might have a good time but you aren’t likely to be wowed. As for me, I’d be more than happy to listen to this movie again but it might be a while before I watch it again.
See for yourself and decide at Yakima Cinema.
• Backstage Pass is a new blog on www.yakima-herald.com covering pop culture from Hollywood to your backyard. T.J. Tranchell, a freelance journalist and Herald-Republic customer service clerk, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can visit his horror-themed blog at www.warning-signs.net.