|This woman will soon be stinking up a multiplex near you|
You may have heard that after years of rumors, they are finally making a film version of 80s megamusical Les Miserables. This show will always hold a special place in my heart, as it was my first Broadway show, and I had fallen in love with (re: memorized) the entire score long before I actually saw it onstage. While it can come across as too earnest for its own good, I think Les Miz is an inspiring story of redemption and people struggling to rise above the unfortunate circumstances life has dealt them.
All that being said, I am not the least bit excited for the film version of Les Miserables. And here’s why:
1) Tom Hooper is directing. The Oscar winner gained a lot of fans with last year’s Best Picture winner, The King’s Speech. I was not among them. While I think Speech is a perfectly respectable film, I also think it is perfectly ordinary. There is nothing particularly daring or interesting about the way it is made; it is just a well acted, well shot period drama, the type of film that has been winning Oscars for decades. Given how familiar Les Miz the musical already is, I think that adding Hooper’s very familiar directorial style into the mix will result in a decidedly bland and uninvolving film that lacks the key element to all great musicals: a sense of life.
2) Hugh Jackman is not my ideal Jean Valjean. I will say that, since they almost had to go with a major movie star (that’s the only way these film adaptations can secure the budget they really need to be done right), they could have done much worse than Jackman. We know he can sing, and his brooding Wolverine persona could work for Valjean. However, he strikes me as too young to play someone who starts the musical around age 40 (he’s been in jail for 19 years, after all), and ages another 20 over the course of the story. I also question whether his voice is up to the demands of such a challenging role, especially given Hooper’s ludicrous decision to have all the actors sing live on set. I’d love to see how they’re going to get a usable audio track onset, and how Jackman’s voice will hold up for the 20th take of “Bring Him Home.”
3) Anne Hathaway is playing Fantine. Again, we know she can sing, and we know she can act (she is sensational in her Oscar-nominated turn in Rachel Getting Married). She is also very young and glamorous, traits that don’t really suit Fantine. Yes, Fantine probably isn’t that old physically, but she is definitely an old soul emotionally. And she kind of gets sick and dies for no apparent reason early on (I assume she contracts syphilis during the “Lovely Ladies” montage), which means she’s gonna need to look like hell for her final number. Will the makeup artists be able to tone down Hathaway’s natural beauty, especially in a big Hollywood film where the stars rarely have a strand of hair out of place?
4) Taylor fucking Swift has been cast as Eponine. This was really the straw that broke the camel’s back for a lot of people, myself included. The country songstress has somehow managed to become a global music superstar despite the lack of any apparent vocal talent. I assume her songwriting abilities are what have gotten her this far, but technique-wise she just isn't up to snuff. If I wanted to hear a young 20-something woman butcher “On My Own,” the epitome of 80s Broadway belting, I would simply look the song up on YouTube and let the hilarity ensue, comfortable in the knowledge that those girls weren’t being paid large sums of money to do it. Plus, we have no idea if Swift can actually act, although I suspect she is more Brittany Spears than Cher.
5) Like all great musicals, Les Miz is inherently theatrical. All of the best movie musicals have been altered significantly during the transition from stage to screen, letting them take advantage of cinema's inherent strengths (which can be quite different from theatre's strengths). Even West Side Story, which on the surface is a very faithful adaptation of its stage counterpart, actually reshuffles several major numbers in an order to work on film. And even then, that famed “Quintet” doesn’t really work onscreen, where it’s much more difficult to do simultaneous action, which does not bode well for “One Day More.” In a best case scenario (which I’m not sure we’ll get), the Les Miz movie will end up like the Sweeney Todd adaptation: perfectly respectable in its own right, but unable to replicate the magic of the stage version.