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It’s filmdom’s version of that old Mark Twain quote: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
Every few years, showbiz pundits declare movie musicals dead.
Then, something like “Les Miserables” comes out.
While the film drew mixed reviews from critics, it’s bringing in sizeable audiences — and considerable box-office kaching. “Les Miz” has already made more than $200 million worldwide.
It’s also won some Golden Globes: best comedy or music and best actor and best supporting actress in a comedy or musical. It recently added a slew of Oscar noms — including one for best picture — to its haul.
All in all, a big success.
Except ... well ... um ... not so much with me.
I spent a lot of time during “Les Miz’s” 157-minute running time checking my watch and gazing around the theater.
Let me first acknowledge that Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway were superb. Jackman eloquently conveys each emotional moment in Jean Valjean’s transformation from grizzled prisoner to upstanding citizen. Hathaway sings beautifully as the ill-fated Fantine. And she weeps like nobody’s business.
As for everyone’s favorite “Les Miz” punching bag: Russell Crowe acts just fine as the relentless Javert, out to capture Valjean, but his voice, well, is not meant for Broadway-style singing.
Director Tom Hooper’s idea to have all the performers sing live rather than lip sync to previously recorded tracks was a good one, even if it doesn’t always work out. Hugh and Anne triumph. But others — Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen among them — sound okay (just okay) and don’t enunciate well enough for us to understand all they are saying. Yet, the concept is valuable. It allows for deeper performances and for more impassioned vocals.
The biggest problem in “Les Miz” isn’t the singing. It’s the directing. It’s how everything draaaaaags out. By a certain point, I was desperately hoping that Javert would just capture Valjean already. Some of that is a function of the material, which could use a good trim. Some of that, though, is because of Hooper’s work. He does kooky things technically — he has a fondness for honing in on extreme close-ups and for tilting the camera at odd angles — but his main weakness is pacing. The movie really bogs down at times. Whoever put together the film’s trailer — which has a spark and energy that the movie doesn’t — should have directed the whole enterprise.
But, based on box-office receipts and award nods, I’m in the minority. And “Les Miz” could signal the (latest) resurgence of movie musicals. Let’s just hope the next wave is more “Chicago” and less “Burlesque.”
What did you think of “Les Miz”? What’s your favorite recent musical?