If you have never seen a theatre production of Les Misérables, I urge you to book your tickets to watch the new film as soon as possible. Freed from the burden of making constant comparisons with the live show, you’ll enjoy the sweeping narrative, emotional tumult and soaring music of an epic in the grand old Hollywood style.
However, let’s be honest, you probably have seen the show – or at least heard the tunes. In this case you will still enjoy the film, but you may find just as much entertainment in discussing its relative merits compared to the particular production(s) you watched.
I concluded that the film lacked the rousing energy of the live crowd scenes (especially on the baricades), but made up for that with the raw emotion on display during extreme close-ups of the main protagonists performing those iconic songs – usually in one take, apparently. Seeing the story through the medium of film also seems to remove some of the showy flounciness of a live musical: it all seems rather grittier and, well, miserable.
Yes some of the singing is not great (best to tune out during Russell Crowe’s numbers) but most of it is (musically, Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway are the big surprises). And no matter how good your theatre seats, you will never have had such a powerful view of the anger in Fontine’s eyes as she sings of her lost dream; of Valjean’s constant soul searching; or of the tenderness between Marius and Eponine as the rain falls on the barricades.
Either way, you will have the songs in your head for days after seeing this film, but that’s no hardship: the snow-filled trek to work seems much more heroic if you hum songs of revolution on the bus.