For his adaptation of the kitsch-fest known as Les Miz, Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) bets heavily on his cast, and loses big. His musical strategy is to have the singing done live on set, and to have the camera bore in on the actors, especially during solos. The singing does indeed have immediacy, and the close-ups give the audience intimacy with the characters but the overlong movie proves a monumental bore.
The movie-star cast designed to elicit a large box office, might be more accurately called “Le Miss,” if “Miss” were a French word rather than Mademoiselle. “Les Miz” might have been called “awesome” by the tour bus theater patrons, but those with a long history of theater attendance would probably find it wanting when compared with the greats of an earlier time including “My Fair Lady,” “South Pacific,” “Oklahoma” and the like.
Hooper and Cameron Mackintosh could have hired any of a number of Broadway or West End singers unknown outside the theater community with voices that would evoke the needed magic. But this collection of tone deaf stars only shows up the banality of the material in this clunky film. Russell Crowe (Javert) stunk, Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean) tried, Anne Hathaway (Fantine) grinds and there was no chemistry between Marius and Cosette. Sacha Baron Cohen (Thénardier) and Helena Bonham Carter (Madame Thénardier’s) looked like a third rate comedy act left over from the Borscht Belt.
In his big climactic number “Bring Him Home,” Jackman is clearly straining to hit the notes almost as desperately as Crowe does throughout with his rasping voice.
Hathaway takes every opportunity to suck all the oxygen out of “I Dreamed a Dream,” the number that is this show’s “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” Earlier in the film, Fantine sells some of her back teeth to a shady dentist who promises to leave her “enough to bite.” Clearly, he also left her enough to gnash. It’s a ghastly, eyelid-fluttering, self-serving, sympathy-begging performance.
Sometimes I thought the show could have been “Oliver Miz” or “Les Twist” with the kid doing a “cockney” version of a song in Paris. Hooper seems to steal a lot of moments from Sir Carol Reed’s version of “Oliver”! Only this “Les Miss” turgid film experience had no “Oom Pah Pah” going for it.
Lumbering and redundant, Les Miz offers proof yet again — after “Nine,” “Idlewild,” “Burlesque,” “Rock of Ages” and more — that the Hollywood musical has become, like lye soap and cursive handwriting, almost a lost art.