The case against Les Miserables
Many of you have emailed to fret about some of the reviews. Les Miserables is currently sitting at 72% on Rotten Tomatoes and 61% on Metacritic which doesn’t suck, no, but there have indeed been certain critics who’ve been vicious in their disdain: it’s so melodramatic, and amateurishly so; there are too many close-up shots when people are singing; there is too much singing.
Yes, too much singing has indeed been a complaint.
I guess it just depends on what you’re expecting out of Les Miserables. Me, I’m the kind of Les Miserables nerd who wants to be caught up in the heightened drama of it all. I’m not sure how you would approach it differently. Can you imagine a subtle, understated Les Miserables? Can you do I Dreamed A Dream by Feist? There are those who would say that even still, they didn’t appreciate being hammered over the head during the film by someone shouting YOU MUST CRY HERE BECAUSE IT IS SAD.
I get that.
And I feel that too, have felt it often, seeing other movies. Mostly though it’s when those other movies have pretended to be something else, something approaching, to borrow from Rooney Mara, aloof, something above the mass cry mentality of the musical...
In the case of Les Miserables, I mean, you’ve seen it, right? Les Miserables has never argued that it was too cool, or even cool at all. Theatre critics HATED the musical when it first opened. If they were going for a critic-friendly version then, I’m not sure hiring Hugh Jackman as the story’s foundation was the right choice. Hugh Jackman is lovely and awesome and totally NOT Ryan Gosling.
So here it is:
Les Miserables, the film, to me, is inclusionary filmmaking. And in my opinion, it’s the right choice. Sometimes the right choice is to be broad. Sometimes, at certain times, especially at Christmas, while presenting something so familiar, making it accessible, even to those you’d consider inferior, is good.
As for the close-ups, oh my God, for those of us who’ve loved Les Miserables forever, who hasn’t imagined themselves SINGING ON MY MY OWN IN CLOSE UP!?!? Anyone who’d shoot “A world that's full of happiness that I have never known” in a wide shot is crazy. Please!
On a more conspiratorial note however, have you noticed that the critics this year have been particularly and almost personally disparaging of the films they don’t support? As you keep hearing, it’s a tight, tight race. And they all have their favourites among the favourites. And given that Oscar can go, really, in any direction right now, it’s not just the Hollywood players who’ve been backstabbing and poisoning (click here for THR’s feature on the “Whisper Campaign” last week about how the frontrunners are trying to undermine each other), it may also be the journalists trying to build any advantage they can for what they consider to be the best of the year.
There’s already, for example, some backlash against Zero Dark Thirty, one of the most well reviewed films in contention, and certainly considered among the sure-nominees, because its detractors are saying it’s “pro-torture”. Opponents of Silver Linings Playbook are all like -- really, will you even remember this movie in a year? And those who aren’t feeling Lincoln insist that it’s boring, and that Sally Field and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are overrated. People who want to bring down Argo criticise it for playing with the truth too egregiously. And Les Miserables was directed by Tom Hooper’s who also directed The King’s Speech and that movie took down critical favourite The Social Network and I guess some of them are still holding a grudge...?
This Oscar season is tight. This Oscar season will evidently be DIRTY. And you didn’t think it could get any better.
Attached - Hugh Jackman preparing for Christmas with his kids in New York yesterday.