Les Miserables is an experience that is far from miserable

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Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) takes on the responsibility of caring for orphan Cosette (Isabelle Allen). Tom Hooper’s adaptation of the epic novel turned hit Broadway musical is an extraordinary directorial feat.

Lylia Li, Staff Writer

Les Misérables is without a doubt one of the best musical to movie adaptations to date.  The film offers a good chance for both avid musical theatre fans who may not have the funds to see a live production, as well as people who only know iconic tunes such as “I Dreamed a Dream” and “On My Own,” to experience Victor Hugo’s epic story.

It follows the life of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread, and his journey to redemption and becoming a better man.  Along the way, Valjean is pursued by the police officer Javert (Russell Crowe) as he attempts to honor a promise to Fantine (Anne Hathaway) in taking care of Cosette (Amanda Seyfried).  Along the way, Valjean meets a group of revolutionaries planning to overthrow the French monarchy.

The movie is unique because, much like the stage musical it was based on, each song was filmed live, not lip-synced.  This allowed every actor to give an incredibly raw and emotional performance.  Anne Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream” was particularly moving, and a tight close-up of her face for the entirety of the four-minute song allowed the audience to see all the nuances of her heartbreaking performance.  Samantha Barks, who played Eponine, is a stage actress, and the strength of her voice and acting shone through in the film.  However, not all the actors demonstrated the mastery of singing that Hathaway and Barks did.  Seyfried was difficult to listen to with her airy, weak voice, and Crowe’s singing was definitely a drawback of the movie, though his terrific acting as Javert made up for his sub-par baritone.

An advantage of the movie is that it brings to life the streets of 19th-century Paris in a way the stage musical cannot.  In one of the beginning scenes of the movie, we see a montage of the Paris poor, in all their raggedy, vicious, beastlike splendor.  These peasants are more real and desperate than any live actor on a stage.  We see Les Amis de L’ABC and how pitiful their barricade is compared to the hordes of French soldiers marching in to trap and crush them.  In addition, the cinematography of the movie is beautiful.  Although the story of Les Misérables is old, the way the movie is filmed, from strange camera angles and long close-ups of the actors, gives it a modern feel.

Les Misérables is a classic that the entire family can enjoy.  It is a film definitely worth seeing, if only to finally know the context of widely known songs like “Castle On A Cloud.” Be warned, though, that the movie will probably move you to tears multiple times.  Be sure to bring a box of tissues to the theater; this is no ordinary lighthearted song-and-dance musical.  It deals with heavy topics: the injustice of the situation of the poor in 19th century France, prostitution, child abuse, and death.  Yet its ultimate message of hope, the preeminence of love, and redemption is what touches such a broad audience and makes it a musical that transcends generations.