This is a sponsored feature. All opinions are 100% from Her Campus.
The author of this review has no affiliation with Universal Pictures, Tom Hooper, or Working Title Films Studio. The opinions expressed are completely this author’s alone.
On Saturday my clan all went to see the new big-screen adaptation directed by Tom Hooper of the hit musical Les Misérables, which itself is based on Victor Hugo’s epic novel. In the scope of about two and a half hours, the movie chronicles the beloved story of nineteenth-century French ex-convict Jean Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman), who tries to wash his slate clean and learns about love and sacrifice. Embittered after spending nearly two decades in prison for a crime that most modern audiences would find ridiculous if they didn’t consider the historical context—stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving child—he comes close to betraying the first person to show him kindness and mercy since receiving his parole, the Bishop of Digne (Colm Wilkinson). When the bishop tells the police that he had given Valjean the silver he had tried to steal from him during the night, the gesture moves him, and he adopts a new identity and becomes a mayor and factory owner in Montreuil-sur-Mer. Unfortunately in doing this, Valjean breaks his parole, prompting prison guard Javert (Russell Crowe) to go on a personal manhunt for him that spans for many years. Providing us a tragic example of a man who has confused what’s lawful with what’s right, he stops at nothing to see to it that Valjean is found and brought to justice.
Eight years after this revelation, a worker at Valjean’s factory, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), loses her job when it’s discovered that she’s the single mother of a girl who lives with the Thénardiers (Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen), a loathsome yet clownish couple who run an inn and demand constant pay for keeping Fantine’s daughter Cosette (Isabelle Allen, later by Amanda Seyfried) under their “care.” When Valjean meets Fantine again, she’s on the street as a prostitute, deprived of her two front teeth, her hair, her dignity and her health. Feeling responsible for her misfortune after not defending her at the factory, he takes her to the hospital, and promises Fantine just before she dies that he will retrieve Cosette and raise her in her place.
Nine years later after that, society and its people simmer with passions ready to combust, both social and personal, and as if having Javert at their heels isn’t enough, Valjean and Cosette are caught in the midst of it all…
Those who have read the book and/or seen the musical should know the rest, as the movie is pretty faithful to the original story, all things considered. I wouldn’t recommend seeing this movie if you don’t like musicals since the characters sing all of their lines throughout the story, although the singing and musical scores are superb. Extra-special kudos goes out to Ms. Hathaway for her raw and real rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” and, well, pretty much every song sung by Mr. Crowe and Mr. Jackman. The movie is of course visually stunning, as well. And this isn’t called Les Misérables for nothing; unless your heart is a stone, it will make you cry, or at least tear up. Three times, at least. It made me ponder about love, life, redemption and doing what’s right versus what’s legal, and how social revolution is such a fickle thing. The story takes place several years after the French Revolution, and it doesn’t look like the poor are any better off than they were before it. That’s assuming that a revolution’s launch is successful; it’s a shame that the people don’t heed to the call of the rebels for change, never mind how senselessly violent it turned out to be. I credit the writers for not completely vilifying the soldiers in the army. As much as we wish they wouldn’t do it to begin with, they are not happy about mowing down all those lives. As Valjean would say, they are just doing their duty.
However, the movie is not without its flaws. My mother is a huge fan of Victor Hugo’s work, and when we walked out of the theater, she said that she loved the movie (then again, she loves pretty much any movie she sees, darn those critics’ socks). She brought up a good point: “The story takes place in France, so why does everyone have a British accent?” I must agree with that. British people have enjoyable accents, but this is about the French. French accents, s’il vous plait?
Pacing and focus are also main weak spots of the movie. I would have preferred that they maintained most of the focus in the latter half on Valjean, Javert and the revolt—known historically as the June Rebellion of 1832—rather than on the love triangle between Cosette, Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and the Thénardiers’ daughter Éponine (Samantha Barks). I would have liked more on why these rich kids feel the need to start an upheaval, more about Javert’s conflict with Valjean, and definitely more Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone). That brave, cheeky little urchin stole my heart, that is, whatever was left of my heart that I hadn’t already given to Mr. Jackman’s character.
What makes it more grating is that neither Cosette nor Éponine seem to possess much characterization beyond their love for Marius, Cosette even less so. In fact, Cosette doesn’t grow as a character or seem to have a function to the plot other than as a love interest to Marius and a reason for self-sacrifice for both Fantine and Valjean. Not to mention, I find it hard to believe that you can suddenly not feel complete without the company of someone you just met on the street. But that’s the trouble with films based on books or musicals. With three hours at most to work with, you have to crunch down the story. What you emphasize and what you change, downplay or leave out completely is a matter of prudence, and the folks who made his movie could do better in this area.
In addition, fans may notice that both Marius and Éponine are considerably more heroic and less manipulative in the movie compared to their book personas. Also, Monsieur and Madame Thénardier serve as comic relief. In a story as heavy as this one, you need comic relief somewhere, right? Personally, I’m not sure if the Thénardiers were right for that purpose. Or if they were, they could’ve cracked a few wittier one-liners, maybe be given more humanizing moments, or actually get what I would think would come to them. Ms. Carter is also known for her role as Mrs. Lovett in Tim Burton’s film version of Sweeney Todd, and she gets thrown in a furnace in that one. In this movie, the worst that happens to her much less sympathetic character and her sleazy husband is that they get carried out of Marius and Cosette’s wedding reception. Not that I think getting thrown into a furnace is funny, nor do I think that would be warranted. I just think that they got off better than they deserved, so their jokes were somewhat lost on me.
Nevertheless, I would say this is a movie worth seeing before they stop airing it in theaters. The emotional release makes up more than enough for its drawbacks, especially the ending, when it makes you want to believe, if only for that moment, that tomorrow will bring something better than today or yesterday.
But if you can’t make it to the theater, there’s no harm in waiting for the DVD. At least that’s easier on the wallet. C’est la vie.
Overall, out of five stars, I’d give Les Misérables three and three-quarters.