Today I was lucky enough to have a Cinema Society screening of “Les Mis” ahead of its Christmas Day opening. I’d write something but I’m still emotionally drained; I literally sobbed during much of the movie.
Okay, I’m not really that overcome. It just feels that way.
Let me start by saying I am not a fan of musicals – not musical theater and not movie musicals. I get irritated when people break into song in the middle of a scene; it’s always seemed artificial to me. Maybe it was all those childhood years when my parents would drag me into the city to see shows like “My Fair Lady” and “The Sound of Music.” Who knows. The point is I went into today’s screening sort of dreading the 2 1/2+ hour experience, despite Les Mis’s legions of devotees and the rapturous early reviews of the film.
From the opening scene I was hooked. I mean seriously hooked. Hugh Jackman is so much more than a hunky song-and-dance man. He’s an actor who tells a story with every song he sings as the runaway convict. Similarly, Russell Crowe, though not as accomplished vocally, brings a “Gladiator” style muscular quality to his role – the perfect opponent for Jackman. And Anne Hathaway is absolutely heartbreaking as the unwed mother who sings “I Dreamed a Dream” and made me convulse into tears. The movie sags a bit after her character departs. She will walk away with Best Supporting Actress. There can be no debate.
After the film, which received a standing ovation from our audience, we had a Q&A with director Tom Hooper, who’d come to Santa Barbara before when he was on the circuit for “The King’s Speech.” He explained why he decided to go with a “song-through” approach, instead of breaking up dialogue with songs, and I thought it was totally the right choice, despite my aversion to opera. Cast member Eddie Redmayne, the young British actor who was so winning in “My Week with Marilyn,” was also along and he told hilarious stories about his audition, the number of takes required for each song (99% of the actors sang their numbers live, as opposed to lipsynching), and how intimidated he was after the entire crew had watched Hathaway deliver her big number and it was his turn for his.
The movie has its flaws, among them the length and the relentless close-ups of the actors, but it’s fabulous entertainment and I couldn’t recommend it more enthusiastically.