David Edelstein Says Les Mis is a Tasteless Bombardment but that’s what’s Good About it

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.

71 Comments on this Post

  1. I agree, I read the review and it was odd. He admitted clapping for the film after Anne Hathaway and he did seem to like the boldness of Hooper’s approach. But like others, he seemed to find the close up, full throttle singing overbearing.

    Edelstein also put Zero Dark Thirty on the top of his 10 best list but qualified that by saying one could find what the film was saying morally reprehensible.

    Well I do know Tony award winner Lin-Manuel Miranda loved Les Miz and he’s no slouch. He tweeted that last night.

    Also Katey Rich at Cinemablend gave the film four stars and thought the film could move film musical genre forward. She’s a smart critic.

    I can’t see this film until Christmas day at the Ziegfeld in New York City. I do know I will not be sitting close to the screen!

  2. Christophe

    “[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”

    With all due respects to the late Nora Ephron, this is not a sufficient reason to deem a song horrible. It just means it’s catchy and memorable. But being either good or bad is yet another concept.

    Me love tasteless anyway, so I’m pretty confident I’ll dig Les Miz.

  3. I think I Dreamed a Dream is a lovely sung but it’s been ruined by being oversung by a number of singers over the years, including Susan Boyle on America’s Got Talent.

    If Anne Hathaway makes it fresh again, that’s really an accomplishment.

  4. He is one of my favourite Critics enjoy his review. Saw Les Mis on Broadway and hated it….so can hardly wait to hate the movie.

  5. Could we all please refer to Les Mis with an ‘s’ and not Les Miz with a ‘z’? It’s been bothering me for months. Just have to get that off my chest. Thanks.

  6. He’s right, though, Christophe. Not only that song but every song in the movie sticks in your head.

  7. Its simply a love it or hate it film due to it being sung through. Whilst I hold no hope with the critics, I think the Guilds and the Actors branch will do the right thing and both could easily carry Les Miz on to big wins!!!!!

  8. But Davey — Edelstein is onto something by holding two complex thoughts at once. You CAN love a movie and know it is a bad movie — and you can love Zero Dark Thirty even if you don’t agree with its politics.

  9. Christophe

    @sasha
    Can’t argue with that… It’s certainly very annoying, but that doesn’t mean it’s horrible.

  10. If a song sticks in your head then it has done its job. Many a Broadway show haas been criticised for FAILING to have memorable songs. So it’s a good thing people!

  11. If ‘Les Mis’ the movie turns out to be more ‘Phantom’ than ‘Chicago,’ the reason is the material, not the moviemaking. ‘Chicago’ was/is fast, jazzy, funny, and very cynical–perfect fodder for today’s hip, attention-deficit audiences, even though it’s set in the past.  ‘Les Miserables’ is, well, earnest. Very earnest. That’s not likely to play as well except to musical theater enthusiasts–and there are many of us.

  12. 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

    LMAO

  13. Sasha, do you think Les Misérables is a bad movie?

  14. I’ve been agreeing with some of the reviews but the one thing I don’t get is their kind of making fun of Hathaway. That was the one part of the movie I felt was beyond reproach.

  15. I kind of wish every detractor of the film who hasn’t seen the show on stage would. I can’t imagine going into the theatre to see the film and not absolutely loving it. And yes I realize that’s a textbook FanBoy statement.

  16. Maybe he’s referring more to an honorable semi-failure rather than a guilty pleasure. There are guilty pleasures…and then there are movies like The Fountain and The Lovely Bones. I LOVE both of those films but I can recognize why a lot of people don’t. They have their flaws (to me tiny ones that add up) but I find their messages resonating. Musicals seem to do better than they should because of song and dance numbers. I know Rent was never acclaimed but it has legions of fans, even Nine has followers. I think if a musical has a bad script but great choreography and one extremely solid number the flaws can be overlooked. Often times a song can detract people from that solid emotional connection that you’d find in reality. If Les Mis is mostly singing then maybe the emotional connection is stunted (that you’d find in real life). The connection you’d find in a musical is a bit more forced.

    I can’t wait to see Les Mis though. I’m almost certain I would never call it the best of the year, I’m not the biggest fan of musicals, but any film that displays great production value and heart deserves a shot.

  17. Sasha, do you think Les Misérables is a bad movie?

    I don’t know – what’s a bad movie? Many said Cloud Atlas was a bad movie and I still love it. I’ve seen Les Miz twice now and liked it a lot more the second time. I watched the 25th anniversary on PBS last night and am amazed at how great those songs are — but I also found the movie sort of captured that greatness but not entirely. It was a bold experiment, to film it in closeup, making it look hand-held so that it was supposed to feel real, much the way John Adams felt real. But the problem is that those songs are bombastic – loud and overwhelming. So the first time I saw it it was torture. The second time, on my flat screen, I liked it a lot better. Still didn’t like Cohen and Bonham-Carter at. all. But Jackman, Hathaway, Barks and Redmayne are fantastic. So it’s sort of a badly directed movie performed by a great ensemble. I also think it will win the SAG ensemble.

  18. And p.s. if it isn’t going to be Lincoln or Zero Dark Thirty for Best Picture I’m all for it being Les Mis.

  19. There have only been 3 performances I’ve felt would win an Oscar based on a trailer alone. DDL for There Will Be Blood, Heath Ledger for Dark Knight, and Anne Hathaway for Les Mis.

  20. ” 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).”

    The Forgiveness IS the prize and the characters look forward to the eternal afterlife. His review can be summed up as: what a dumb hot mess but fun anyway!

  21. Sasha,
    Sounds as though you like the musical with each exposure. As any Les Miz fan will tell you, it is very addicting! Do you think Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks have any chance at Oscar noms? Reviewers have been brutal but I believe AMPAS will fall in love with Les Miz. Wishful thinking maybe on my part.

  22. I still feel like Les Mis will get a lot of nominations from the AMPAS branches (though I’m increasingly skeptical of Hooper getting one). I’m thinking anywhere from 7-10 or so. And I’m sure plenty of people will like/love it.

    But I don’t think that it can win BP if it gets mixed reviews, and moreso because Lincoln and ZD30 are so very strong. Argo, too.

  23. “tasteless bombardment” is another way of saying that this kind of thing in normally “not to my taste.” I may be wrong but I’d venture to speculate that opera and the Broadway musical are not really Edelstein’s favored entertainment. That’s fine. But for those who are emotionally ravishing by this sort of thing, I think we accept that.

    Yes this is was rather a bizarre piece, but in the end the author admits he was captivated and won over, regardless of the compromised disclaimer.

    I was thrilled to hear that Sasha liked the film far more on a second viewing.

    What are it’s Best Picture chances? Weighing all the assets and debits, I’d say it’s in the Big Three with ZERO and LINCOLN.

    And the reviews number will be going up soon enough.

  24. “I kind of wish every detractor of the film who hasn’t seen the show on stage would. I can’t imagine going into the theatre to see the film and not absolutely loving it. And yes I realize that’s a textbook FanBoy statement.”

    OLIN – I’m right there with you. I can’t wait for this and while I don’t think it’d replace Life of Pi on the top of my list, I have a feeling I’m gonna enjoy the hell out of it.

  25. LES MISERABLES will NOT be getting “mixed” reviews. When all is said and done it will get SOLID reviews. Not as excellent as ZERO and LINCOLN, but not that far behind that it would affect it’s potential to win Best Picture.

    I can even foresee a scenario where the non-musical voters split between ZERO and LINCOLN, paving the way for LES MISERABLES to come up the middle.

    I am NOT predicting that LES MISERABLES will win Best Picture. But I firmly believe at this point it has as good a chance as Spielberg’s and Bigelow’s film. Those who dread the film winning, and are pointing to a tiny number of reviews that have been published as indication it will be critically mauled, need to wait things out. The number at MC and RT will only get better, and indeed at the latter they are rising.

  26. Do you think Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks have any chance at Oscar noms?

    Like all of the strongest contenders it will depend on how much the Academy likes the movie overall. Then again, The Departed only got one supporting nomination and ended up winning Best Picture. Actors nominate actors so you don’t have to worry about sound guys not getting it — the actors will decide on their fates, I suspect. I really don’t know. I don’t have much clarity with the race at all.

  27. @Sam Juliano: I don’t think Les Miz has a chance of winning BP with ZD30 now in the picture. That film is too much of a monster, timely, and non-divisive. If the reviews are to believed it literally has no weakness just a straight story of the tracking down of Osama Bin Laden. Death of Osama >>>>>>> any film. Lincoln and Les Mis have detractors, ZD30 doesn’t.

  28. Indeed a “great/terrible” review from Edelstein, but it’s considered rotten on RT.

  29. It’s hard to take this review seriously, unbelievably trollish.

  30. Jerry—Who is the film a “monster” with? With you? Every film is divisive in one way or another. The matter here is intense passion. And first place ballot placements.

    It has an excellent chance. And don’t be so sure that ZERO will be carrying the day either. The way I see it LINCOLN is more the Academy’s cup of tea.

    But the proof will be in the pudding.

  31. Critics are having a field day with this movie, thinking of new phrases to describe it with.

  32. @Dave L – About Les Miz vs. Les Mis — theater lovers/fans for decades have used the spelling Les Miz. Not usually Les Mis, which sounds like Les Miss.

    My feeling right now is that Les Miserables’ chances of winning best picture right now have diminished somewhat because of the mixed to negative reviews. However, if the guilds get behind it, particularly SAG, it still has a good chance. And I can see actors’ liking/loving the film.
    The SAG Award will be revealing. I could see Lincoln winning there, too.

    And BAFTA–which direction will they go? Les Miserables was mostly shot in Britain, no?

  33. Bob Burns

    Fantine’s demise in the book is horrific, much moreso than can be shown on stage or film…. indeed, the book was, and still is, vulgar, the language and the images shocking. Les Miserables is a bludgeon.

    Hugo’s play Hernani caused a riot, it was considered so vulgar in 1828., so I can imagine him being pleased by much of this review.

  34. After watching the Hollywood Reporter roundtable, I have a lot of respect for Tom Hooper’s commitment to Les Miz, even if I may not agree with his some of his choices. I don’t know if he’s reading the reviews but in the HR interview he doesn’t come across as egotistical as Tarantino does. Luckily the film’s budget is fairly low for a musical so it can still make money even if some of the reviews are cruel.

  35. Thank you, Daveylow.
    It is, indeed, “Les Miz.” It has been for over twenty-five years now.

  36. About Cloud Atlas. I’ve seen so many movies over my lifetime and I found Cloud Atlas very entertaining and often exhilarating. I do think I know when a movie is awful. I was shocked at some of the negative reception for the film. Though I can understand why some may not like all the stories or would find the film too long.

  37. “And p.s. if it isn’t going to be Lincoln or Zero Dark Thirty for Best Picture I’m all for it being Les Mis.”

    Whoa, Sasha did you really just say this? I think this alone just made my day! Haha

  38. Also, fwiw, my shirt from the Les Miserable production in London says “LES MIS” and not “Les Miz” with the z. Just thought I would throw that out there. Also, the movie itself is using #LesMis as its hashtag.

  39. danemychal

    Too many people are comparing with Les Mis with the other musicals in Oscar history. I personally think its trajectory will more closely follow that of last year’s The Help. It will win whatever Ensemble awards are handed out (though Lincoln’s ensemble poses a far greater threat this year to Les Mis than anything faced by The Help), and will be nominated for Best Picture but probably not Best Director. Therefore, I see it losing BP as well. It will claim Best Supp Actress (as did The Help), but will garner a tech Oscar or two (and several more nods in those categories than did The Help). Thats how i feel about it right now; it’s this year’s The Help. Things could change though.

  40. LSU Duck: And the NY Times calls it Les Miz
    http://carpetbagger.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/06/to-love-or-not-les-miz/

    I guess we should live with both spellings :-)

  41. @danemychal

    I couldn’t agree more. It’s The Help all over again, the same way Life of Pi is Hugo and The Master is The Tree of Life. Lincoln and 0D30 are The Artist and The Descendants, but maybe not on that order.

  42. unlikely hood

    Dave L – Daveylow is right about “Les Miz” as an abbreviation – if you don’t believe him type “Les Miz returns to Broadway 2006″ into Google and you will see just how many newspapers agree – and especially playbill.com, which is the website for the people that make all of Broadway’s programs. So no, it’s not just us being annoying.

  43. I don’t know that Edelsteins review reads as particularly negative, and yet, there it is on rotten tomatoes as negative.

  44. Right now RT has this listed as a rotten review… Am I the only one who got a more positive vibe from it? I feel like it’s a “B” review, but that’s just me. In any case, it’s one of the better reviews I’ve read so far, so thanks for that Sasha. Too many of the negative reviews have a spiteful quality. I found Calum Marsh’s Slant review to be particularly egregious. But I suspect the reviews will even out to around a “Dreamgirls” level. Not universal praise, but a core group of critics who go mad for it.

  45. All time worst song: Tomorrow from Annie. Sun is gonna come up tomorrow my ass.

  46. Dream worse than webber? May ephron rest in peace, but I politely disagree.

  47. SeattleMoviegoer

    you know, it is sort of the “little movie that could.” for all its scope and big sets and crowds, it was made for $61 million. that’s half what a bad romantic comedy costs nowadays.

  48. Jerry Grant

    I haven’t seen “Les Miz” yet (yes, that’s how you’re supposed to write it), but would it be wrong to call the bombastic/divisive musical style that divides audiences akin to the reception of “Moulin Rouge”?

    (And if so, does this mean I will like “Les Miz” a lot?)

  49. rufussondheim

    What many people who seem to be forgetting here is that most professional actors started acting when they were young in theater programs at their schools and local communities. Even in performing arts colleges and acting programs at Universities around the country, musical theater is the dominant medium.

    Now I have no statistics to verify this, but I would guess well over half of the AMPAS acting branch has a background in musical theater. And I would guess that much of the rest of AMPAS has had a background in musical theater as well.

    Les Miz has a built-in audience when it comes to AMPAS and with Les Miz, there really isn’t as big a musical show in recent decades. SO many of the Academy’s members will already know the show, so they won’t have to overcome the “first viewing” curse that Sasha experienced. Like most good shows, the charms of Les Miz are not instantly apparent.

    Those of you not familiar with the world of musical theater have no idea how big of a juggernaut Les Miz is. It’s kind of like Titanic and The Dark Knight all rolled into one big massive over-the-top extravaganza.

    And AMPAS will eat it up no matter the reviews.

  50. You know, SeattleMoviegoer…I never would have thought that Les Miz would be the “little movie that could” until you described it like that. I’d still give that title to Beasts of the Southern Wild…even The Master because of the subject matter and how unapologetic it is in it’s story telling. But Les Miz’s budget is a wonder in and of itself. At the least I thought it’d be 130 million.

  51. eclipse22

    thanks for the genuine laugh, i dont know when last a review mad me laugh this much!
    i get this feeling that the guy didnt want to like it but couldnt honestly say at the end of the day that he didnt enjoy it because he did! against his better judgement and better taste…

    i like it its not a rave review or a negative one, but just a real assessment of conflictual feelings, can’t wait to see it!

  52. Les Mis vs Les Mizzzzz – I checked papers from Brazil, Canada, Australia, and Germany – all Les MIS, like Britain.

    The “z” (zed, if you will) is an Americanization, like pizza. Hey! Now I know why it qualifies as an American film for the AFI!

  53. Christophe

    Wow! Les Mis just sprang to 77% on RT but still stuck at 55 on MT – snobs!!

  54. rufussondheim

    Well Metacritic hasn’t updated in the last few days. Give it time.

  55. True. Edelstein’s review isn’t even factored into the metacritic average yet.

    :)

  56. Tero Heikkinen

    “The “z” (zed, if you will) is an Americanization, like pizza.”

    Pissa? I’d type “Americanisation”.

  57. @Jerry (now a while back) – I don’t know that it’s fair to say ZD30 won’t ne divisive – the torture issue is starting to get some pushback (see pieces from Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan, also Sen. Feinstein has jumped into the fray). I haven’t seen it, but I am uncomfortable with any portrayal of torture (waterboarding) as justifiable because it’s illegal and because it’s known that torture does not lead to good intelligence.

  58. Edelstein is probably an acquired taste. His reviews are often loaded with spiteful observations even if the film is noteworthy.He doesn’t possess any unshakeable astuteness about what is worthwhile or not worthwhile on screen. I suspect Les Miserables is not a bad movie but a good one, perhaps even a very good one.

  59. Yep Christophe, RT has LES MISERABLES at 77% and I predict it will continue to climb. Those people on this thread who continue to insist that the film is “receiving mixed to negative” reviews need to wake up and smell the coffee. The numbers refute that!

    I can see the average going over 80% in a few days and a few who want to see teh film go down will keep saying the same thing. MC has it lower, yes, but that site only has seven reviews up.

    RT will have the film in the 80’s, while MC will probably go to the 70’s.

    Now an AFI top 10 placement and some seeming momentum.

    It has a very good chance folks.

  60. And speaking of Edelstein I see his review is now officially FRESH, as it always should have been.

  61. unlikely hood

    Off-topic, but the pizza comment made me think of the two years I lived in Britain – 2005-2007 (I’m American). Any time I said “pasta” it raised eyebrows. We Americans rhyme it with “rasta” – the Brits rhyme it with “master” or “canasta.” Sometimes I would actually be corrected – when that happened, I said, “Uh, yeah, we pronounce words for Italian food the way ITALIANS do. Crazy, eh?” I remember one of my British friends, Rhys, replying, “Surely that can’t always be true.” But he couldn’t think of an exception. Can anyone here?

    Looks like we win the Anglo-American pasta war. Now let’s not discuss vitamins…

  62. Christophe

    @sam j
    let’s not get too excited either, shall we? I was quite taken aback by the first reviews for Les Misérables, some extremely harsh and some ridiculously positive, but none really objective. so now I’m adopting a wait-and-see attitude, knowing very well that audiences and oscar voters will have the last say in this anyway.

  63. rufussondheim

    pasta fagioli

  64. He’s right, though, Christophe. Not only that song but every song in the movie sticks in your head.

    I always think of that episode of Seinfeld when George couldn’t stop singing “Master of the House”.

    I have yet to see this monstrosity but the more I hear about it the less I believe I’ll like it. I saw a clip of Jackman and Crowe singing one of the important songs that we’re all familiar with and it sounded really bad. It also looked like Crowe was so busy trying to sing that he forgot to act.

    The other thing is I hate shakycam. Hate it. I don’t care what movie it is, it pisses me off. I’d like warning labels on movies that use that so I can decided whether the movie’s important enough to endure it. If a movie this big is using that shitty technique that’s just sad.

  65. I haven’t seen this kind of buzz over one song in a movie since Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls.

  66. From the late 80s to early 90s, I went to Broadway to watch the musical show 3 times. Also own the 10 year and 25 year anniversary on DVDs and watched them quite often. Enjoyed the musical a lot but is disappointed if I consider it an adapation of Victor Hugo’s masterpiece. I can definitely see why the critics are lukewarm about it as a film.

    To the Les Mis fan boys, you can hear the AMPAS sing and there is real Oscar buzz to start when tomorrow comes.

    To Anne, it’s the song of the century whoever sings won’t lose the awards again.

  67. SeattleMoviegoer

    Edelstein’s review is practically an out-and-out rave compared to the poor, pathetic, attention-craving ramblings of Stephanie Zacharek on film.com. she attempts to eviscerate the production with the same sarcastic, hipster, snark on steroids manner that Pauline Kael launched on WEST SIDE STORY. but Zacharek is no Kael. at least Kael loved musicals and had an intellectual/educated background on theatre and the arts. after so much as already been said and written, i say–let the audiences decide…

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