Overall rating: 4.5/5 stars
Originally published by lotswife.com.au
Our very own Rusty and Jacko: all old and grey and desperately in need of more layers.
Upon the release of Les Misérables, there was only one thing you needed to know: every single sound produced, squeaks and all, were done live.
Something needs to be said about the beauty of this land of live vocal magic. The film’s objective (as any good film should be) is to explore the humanity of its central characters and display their plight with believable depth and dignity.
Musicals have the advantage of ‘telling a-bit-more than showing’, as lyrics can be simplistic yet utterly overwhelming. The emotional clarity is enhanced with every beat of the opus, and a character’s quirks amplified with simple instrumental flourishes.
However, generally one only connects on an emotional level to either the acting or the swelling of the orchestra. Even during rare moments of magic one is constantly aware of the artificially auto-tuned red curtain, where the actors may look sad, and they may sound sad, but they sing like they have the lungs of a
boastful lion after a satisfied feed. It’s beautiful but phony.
Les Misérables manages to overcome this phony valley by combining the larger-thanlife essence of stage musicals with the nuance and reserved subtlety of cinema. It utilises the bombastic nature of stage to envelope the
audience and the rare quieter moments for exposition of character, effectively turning the formula inside out.
The protagonists inhabit a universe where they sing instead of talk. We hear the catches in their voices, the tears in their eyes and the mucous clogging up their voice boxes. It’s as if the characters really are lamenting and rejoicing out loud; they just happened to rise and fall to a melody.
This was done by design by director Tom Hooper, who felt the transition from dialogue to song lacked purpose, and consequently cut most of the talking. This risks becoming excessive and maudlin, as the storyline alone (in fact, its title: The Miserable Ones) is awfully tragic; to add song and dance is practically destructive (fake cough, Glee). Through live singing, however, the actors can display their emotions with the reserved dignity that the characters deserve, without compromising the sentimental integrity for perfect pitch. It’s not melodrama with flashy hooks. It’s painful, ugly, raw and completely captivating.
I dreamed a dream I had great hair, while those around me looked all goofy. I dreamed the tendrils flow like streams, and that my roots go un-dandruff-ed.‘
Am I the only one who thinks they gave only Eddie Redmayne (and no one else) perfect modern-day-ish hair to further enhance his romantic appeal?
The perfect example of this lies in Anne Hathaway. Her performance of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ was earnest, gut wrenching and elegantly unadorned. It’s Hathaway at her best. It’s also reminiscent of a particular scene in The Princess’ Diaries – where Mia lies drenched in her dilapidated convertible croaking out ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends’ through the rain as she tries to comprehend her hopelessness. She’s not actually performing; singing is just literally the only fathomable action left when nothing can be done.
I’m not trying to level Diaries with Les Mis; I’m merely trying to take the musical out of the musical context. Anne Hathaway is not singing. She’s crying, yelling and exploding. After all, how can you convincingly portray weakness when your voice booms through the crowd? ‘Stage voice’ is only employed when the character needs to lament loudly. And there is much to lament about.
The film does not hide from the devastating destitution in its storyline, for
nothing destroys spirit like poverty. You may not be visually afflicted, but emotionally there is little mitigation to your despair. What the film does magnificently with this gloom is demonstrate the genuine sense of hope and joy found in belief of a higher power. The story displays guilelessly how during moments of desolation there can be peace in faith. It’s not ironic, satirical or preachy. It’s refreshing to see what has brought millions a true sense of contentment and comfort be treated with earnestness in film. It is not one-dimensionally represented, however, as the other, more indifferent perspective is also depicted for moments where the omnipresent cross lies flaccidly in the background can feel like the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg.
The film is an exercise in restraint. It has the right combination of all that is good with cinema and music. And like its characters, the audience leave the emotional joy ride with a greater appreciation of the arts, empathy for the poor and the promise of eventual peace.
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