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"Les Miserables": Failed Musical, Successful Book

January 15th, 2013 | 6 min read

By Guest Writer

(All quotes are taken, out of context, from Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.)

Tom Hooper's Les Mis (I will not confuse the adaptation with Hugo’s masterpiece) was UK-released the 11th of January. This film is a bold experiment. What else it is…is hard to say exactly, though others have had plenteous and helpful things to say.

I wanted to love the film, and when I didn’t I wanted to hate it, but liked it too much for that. I suggest the need to consider nuances of music, adaptation, and theme.Les Mis

Right off, let’s name names. Everyone knows Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe were cast for marketability. Three hours of better singing would have been appreciated. These do their best, but we wouldn’t be celebrating the uniqueness of their performances if we only had to celebrate their excellence.

The ensemble balances things considerably. Eddie Redmayne impresses. Samantha Barks has the chops expected of a stage pro. The child actors rule. The elephant overshadows everyone with its Parisian whiteface wooden performance.

I’m helped by Brett McCracken’s previous post. He’s a savvier film critic than I. However, the film struggles musically for two reasons he hasn’t addressed.

First, the musical was always mediocre. I'm with the critics on this. It’s provocative, it’s moving, it’s—dare I say it—written for popular appeal. That isn’t wrong, but let’s not confuse emotional currency, critical awards, or ticket sales with excellence. This performance could be better than Susan Boyle’s, and Les Mis would still be the French proverbial barrel of wine with a spoonful of sewage.

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