David Edlestein has maybe given fans of Les Miserables a review they can cheer about – but it’s hard to tell what he’s really saying – it’s almost he’s saying, it’s a terrible movie but I loved it anyway:
The tasteless bombardment that is Les Misérables would, under most circumstances, send audiences screaming from the theater, but the film is going to be a monster hit and award winner, and not entirely unjustly. After 30 or so of its 157 minutes, you build up a tolerance for those it’s-alive-alive-alive! close-ups and begin to admire the gumption—along with the novelty of being worked over by such a big, shameless Broadway musical without having to pay Broadway prices. The authors (there are four credited screenwriters) have pared down Victor Hugo’s great wallow of a novel to its dumb, pious moral (Christian forgiveness always wins, though you might not live to break out the Champagne), but the show has been audience-tested for decades and defiantly holds the screen, much like its French revolutionaries at the barricades.
And on Hathaway:
That music has its adherents, but I must cast my lot with the late Nora Ephron, who resisted Susan Boyle’s thunderous debut on Britain’s Got Talent singing the show’s most famous song, “I Dreamed a Dream”: “That song is worse than all of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and it’s worse than ‘It’s a Small World After All.’ [It’s] the all-time most horrible song ever in history, and the reason is simple: It sticks in your brain and never stops playing … And just when you think it’s gone, you see the title in print, and it starts playing again.” Here, it comes at you via Anne Hathaway after her character, the unwed mother Fantine, is persecuted (“You play a virgin in the light / But need no urgin’ in the night”), shorn of her locks, and raped. She does it in a single take in a ghoulishly tight close-up, and although her plucked-chicken appearance is frightful, I was filled with admiration when she hit the big notes and stole the song back from Boyle. I even joined in the applause. Hathaway will win many awards for this performance, if for no other reason than the image of her giant mouth will imprint itself indelibly on millions of brains, some belonging to Oscar voters.
It’s a great/terrible review all at once but maybe this is how the big Hollywood musical morphs into the scrappy little movie that could.