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Will Critics & Audiences Sing For ‘Les Misérables’?

Will Critics & Audiences Sing For 'Les Misérables'?

As the fall movie season has heated up, we’ve examined a number of the high profile titles of the next few months, taking a look so far at Lincoln,” Skyfall, Flight, Wreck-It Ralph” and Django Unchained, with verdicts on the first three having already come in (you can now read our reviews of the Spielberg, the Bond and the Zemeckis). With November’s movies present and accounted for, we’re now looking a little further into the future, with one of the Christmas Day releases — “Les Misérables.”

Now a quarter-of-a-century old, the musical adaptation of Victor Hugo‘s novel is one of the biggest stage shows in history, but it took the heat behind Tom Hooper‘s Oscar-winning “The King’s Speech” to actually give it the momentum for the green light. With an all-star cast, an epic scope, and a bold take on the movie musical, is this the next big Oscar sweep or the next “The Phantom of the Opera?” You can see Rodrigo Perez and Gabe Toro duking it out below, and let us know what you think in the comments section below.   

“Les Misérables”

The Case For: 
When a director not known for his or her genre work takes on a sci-fi film, a horror, a zombie movie, an action picture, etc., audiences — especially movie bloggers — tend to get excited. But for some reason, when a filmmaker tackles a musical, very much an adjunct genre that can fit with myriad styles, audiences (at least online ones), tend to shrug.

Perhaps in this case that’s because the musical in question is “Les Misérables” — a Broadway production your parents likely attended — and the director is Tom Hooper, the filmmaker behind “The King’s Speech,” now perceived as a conventional and safe Oscar choice and the person who bumped the more beloved “The Social Network” and David Fincher from achieving Academy gold.

Having never seen experienced or remained blissfully ignorant of “Les Misérables” the stage play (as well as most of its cinematic adaptations), I’ll concede to any naysayers that as a piece of source material, it could be dull/for moms. But let’s take a mile high view for a second.

What makes “Les Misérables” appealing? Well, a director taking the leap into a musical — well recognized as one of the hardest genres to pull off let alone direct well — after only a handful of feature-length dramas sounds like the kind of challenge that intrigues this writer. Secondly, the cast: Anne Hathaway (who we know can belt out a tune), Hugh Jackman (who can do the same given that his Broadway career is full of song-and-dance man roles), Russell Crowe (who seems to be having a comeback of sorts after his share of generic thrillers), plus Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen and relative newcomer Samantha Barks (who already starred as her character Éponine in the London production of the show at the Queen’s Theatre in 2010).

So it’s a historical period piece drama (dying species? Check) set during the Paris Uprising of 1832, with a musical (difficult genre? Check) on top and some of the most talented actors around in a genre we’ve never seen any of them in? What’s not to find appealing? Hooper gets points on ambition alone, not least for recording the singing live on set rather than in a studio months beforehand, which (if it works) could make for superior performances.

And sure, “The King’s Speech” might have been a conservative Oscar Best Picture, but judged on its merits, it’s a perfectly good little drama with wry moments of humor and a great cast (Colin Firth was excellent in it). And so while perhaps a little dry as a subject matter, compared to say “Hyde Park on Hudson” (a type of sequel that is entirely formulaic and toothless Oscar bait), “The King’s Speech,” is far from the ingratiatingly manipulative crowd pleaser that some accused it of being during that Oscar season. All of this is highly subjective, but I’m convinced that if “The King’s Speech” came out in April and didn’t take the Oscar crown from a more beloved filmmaker, it wouldn’t have been maligned after the fact (and independently, reviews out of Toronto where it debuted were complimentary). Perhaps I’m simply concentrating on the online conversation which tends to be centered around boys with little attention span for nuanced-drama.

Hooper’s got a good eye for tone and humor, and a fine sense for getting out of the way of good performances, along with an unflashy style of directing that never gets respect outside of awards. I’m not here to convince anyone that “Les Misérables” is going to be the best film of 2012, nor am I highly anticipating it as much as say, Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” (for random example). However, like “Life of Pi,” which turned out to be great (and I had been beating the drum for it around The Playlist water cooler for months despite a lot of “meh,” scratching-your-head responses), I’m saying, don’t dismiss or discount “Les Misérables” just yet. There’s a lot of reasons why it could be a big, bold spectacle, and who doesn’t love that? – Rodrigo Perez

The Case Against:
Hugh Jackman. Russell Crowe. Anne Hathaway. Amanda Seyfried. The director of “The King’s Speech.” Holy crap, it’s like a white people-palooza. I’m making a larger point here, Sensitive Whitey, so stick with me.

“The King’s Speech” was a plate of deep-fried Oscar-bluehair-pleasing gumbo. As much as something like “The Avengers” panders to every fanboy in the world, “The King’s Speech” felt reverse engineered to appeal to the broadest of the broad, the older white moms and dads that comprise the majority of the Oscar pool (as well as the eventual viewing demographic). Dim and unchallenging, the visually simplistic story took shortcuts in its storytelling, from the minimized role of Queen Elizabeth as Supportive Wife to the jerk-ifying of King Edward VIII to the wallpapering of the, ahem, Nazi problem.

The Social Network” was not the best film that year, but when forced into a two-horse race, voters and audiences looked at which film had more clearly defined villains, more simplistic decision-making amongst its characters, and a generally stuffy, sedate storytelling style that reminded us of the best of PBS. In this context, “The Social Network” was a set of knives, and “The King’s Speech” was a pillow.

Of course, what does Tom Hooper decide to do for an encore? Why, it appears to be a White People Totem, a popular tale re-envisioned by greater minds than him many times over. Really, among even fans of “Les Misérables,” was anybody saying, “I love Les Miz, but I wish it had more of a BBC sheen”? Certainly there is challenge for Hooper in tackling a musical, and for fans of that genre, it might be interesting. But there’s a reason it’s challenging — most musicals are DREADFUL onscreen, pre-established material or not. The filmmakers often choose to play up the theatricality, which is to accentuate the artificiality. An approach with merit, certainly, but an approach for those who look at the medium as something that can be twisted, altered, and contorted to their specifications. Not “somewhere I work.”

And Hooper has been turning “somewhere I work” into a mantra, porting over his flat, ugly shooting style from television by abusing the fish-eye lens, as well as his innovation in “The King’s Speech” to shoot sequences with massive dead space over their heads to emphasize the off-center portraiture of each actor from within the frame. Yeah, I’ll bet Stan Brakhage was really jerking off on that.

Of course, he loaded this movie with interesting types, or bloated stars who sometimes show a tin ear for material. Jackman was minted as a star in “X-Men” twelve years ago, but a look at his resume reveals he hasn’t done much to earn this. Crowe is on the Brando/Oliver Reed schedule of showing up every other movie, while the next interesting performance given by Seyfried, as the juicy role of Cosette, will be her first.

Though it is not a very big role, Anne Hathaway has shown herself to be a strong performer, albeit one who hasn’t had her lungs truly tested on the big screen. She’s the one actor in this cast that’s shown a willingness to go somewhere unusual in the last five years, and could be an exciting part of the musical reaching the screen. But as Fantine, a hard-times prostitute who passes away through inglorious causes, the suggestion is that Hooper, adapting the second-longest running musical in history, opted to make nothing but safe, friendly choices, regardless of whether they are appropriate or not (Hooper’s version seems to have no room for a classical singer in the lead roles).

Contrast this with Andrea Arnold’s “Wuthering Heights,” which drastically reinvisioned that story by lopping off the second half and concentrating on the working-class brutality between the romance of Heathcliff and Catherine, creating a visceral, hard-to-watch love story that removes the usual trappings of period love stories. “Les Misérables,” which seems to preserve its story in amber, thematically and visually, is being pushed as a major Oscar contender and potential box office hit. “Wuthering Heights,” meanwhile, has already begun to fade from the critical discussion. Makes you wonder. – Gabe Toro

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Is this the same Gabe who chucked a hissy fit on Hollywood Elsewhere after Drew McWeeny said it was OK to write a review 20 minutes after seeing a film at a festival? So let me get this straight: what McWeeny said is totally uncool and unprofessional, but it is perfectly OK to bitch about a play or book WITHOUT even reading it?


Well, there's 2 reviewers who know nothing about the show for sure. How on earth do they hold the job of reviewing a classic like this show?
I am going to see it in London before the movie comes out now, because of the clips of this new movie. I walked out of it years ago, as it was toooo sad for me at that time.
Now I understand theatre a little more I will decide to appreciate the musical on stage.
But I must say, I am really looking forwards to the movie.
The music sounds amazing.
How the cast have sung their parts is ground breaking stuff and hats off to new ideas.
Phantom was trashed because of reviewers like these 2 above, but the movie version has gone on converting thousands of people every year to become musical theatre lovers, so it leaves a wonderful legacy.
Les Mis has all the experience and hindsight of past new ideas plus emerging awesome technology to make this movie one gigantic blockbuster, in my opinion.
Once I heard the first chords of music swell and rise, I knew in my heart it was headed for great things, which I'm sure it will receive. I think everything, actors, technology, the era we live in are ripe for this spectacle and I personally can't wait.
10/10 for attempting this never before singing technique too. The actors all sang their parts, live, to piano music, with the timing set by their interpretations of the roles they played. Then later, the huge orchestrations were added. Awesome results I think.


Gabe – not your best piece of writing.


You are obviously not aware of Hugh Jackman's theatre career! Never knew that he was outstanding in the Royal National Theatre's much-applauded revival of OKLAHOMA! ( you can still get a DVD/or soon-to-be released BluRay disc of this musical revival), nor his Broadway Tony winning portrayal in THE BOY FROM OZ or his rock-solid dramatic two-hander with Daniel Craig in A STEADY RAIN and his recent one-man show BACK ON BROADWAY ( which helped him earn an honorary TONY award), or even his introduction to musical theatre as a comedic villain in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and as the narrator Joe Gillis in the sung-through musical SUNSET BOULEVARD.

And on film, you have probably not appreciated or even seen the sensitive potrayal of a trifecta role in THE FOUNTAIN or the fine acting in THE PRESTIGE , or maybe by a miracle, his Australian award winner ERSKINEVILLE KINGS.

How do you think he convinced Universal, Working Title, Cameron Mackintosh, and Tom Hooper that he is the best actor around for the role of Jean Valjean??


The film looks like a huge HIT & any1 who thinks otherwise is gonna be in for a wide awakening trust me. So many fans will come out ACROSS the GLOBE ….. YOUNG & OLDER people. B/c trust me every "thespian" & wannabe musical actress/actor & fans of the theater KNOW THIS SHOW & ALL OF THESE LYRICS . Beleive me it will an EVENT. And the performances look so incrdible I hope award nod's are handed out like candy for this one! Esp for Hugh & Ann who look in top shape! (& possibly Russell who is def doing someting he has never done b4)

Jean Prouvaire

Poor article, good comments.

Cate, for a reinvisioning of Les Miserables, check out Claude Lelouch's 1995 film. It's my favourite Les Miz film adaptation. I'm hoping that after December 2012 it'll become my second favourite… although, as a hardcore fan of the musical who's going to nitpick the new movie to death, I doubt it.

I'm rather surprised by the amount of Oscar-buzz the movie's getting. Recent film adaptations of musicals have had a chequered history (true for all genres I guess). For every critical hit like Chicago or Hedwig there's more than one Nine or Phantom, well-intentioned but mediocre misses. We'll soon see where Les Miz fits in.


Wow, did you even both to research this one?

While there is much I could say, others such as Cate has done so better than me so I'll only add one thing. If you think "Les Mis" is for old white people I have a challenge for you. Just try to prove me wrong.

Take 6 teenage girls to a production of "Les Mis" — ideally they should be about age 12-15 — and then drive them home. Good luck, you may not survive the night.

Trust me, there's a reason Taylor Swift lobbied so hard to get that part.


I just need to fact-check Gabe on a few things, because this outpouring of opinion in the guise of facts is giving me metaphorical hives.

(1) The King's Speech was independently funded, with significant money coming from the UK Film Council and a script in development by screenwriter David Seidler through most of the 2000s; his personal interest in the story arose from childhood experience of speech impediments. NOBODY foresaw its sweep at the box office and award ceremonies, and for all intents and purposes it was assumed that it'd have a respectable UK-based run due to its cast, but not make too much of an impact overseas. To say that it was somehow engineered in a lab to achieve maximum Oscar impact is to apply 20/20 hindsight.

(2) You're also assigning motives to voters (unfounded), denigrating the intelligence of viewers (reductive), and deriding Hooper's entire directorial style (debatable) — and stating all this as fact instead of personal conjectures. Bad journalistic practice. I say this as someone who was on TSN's side: The King's Speech was not the trainwreck you would have us believe it was, and not wholly undeserving of the accolades it took home. Perspective, man. Hooper never stole your lunch money.

(3) You're again working under the assumption that the way to make a musical conform to the big screen is via the twisting, altering, and contorting of the base premise to "specifications", because "most" directors of musicals do it that way. Okay, but can we talk about West Side Story? The Sound of Music? My Fair Lady? Films based on musicals did not begin and end with Chicago and Phantom of the Opera and Nine, glitz and theatricality and artifice. The fact that many recent musical adaptations eschewed realism (or treating the medium as "somewhere I work") in favour of heightened theatricality does not negate this approach.

(4) Looking at Hugh's (film) resume, I see breathtaking performances in The Prestige and The Fountain beside Wolverine, and am not sure what else he needs to have done to "deserve" being minted a star. I'm furthermore not sure what your point re: Anne is, when it comes to her "appropriateness" in being cast as Fantine as well as her vocal background (because she's been doing musical theatre for a long time) — certainly it wouldn't make sense to say that her successful screen career negates her suitability for a role, would it? As for Russell, surely having a lot of movies coming out is not a crime, and certainly hasn't been something The Playlist frowned upon in the past (see: 2011, Chastain, Fassbender). And I haven't seen a lot of Amanda's movies but… man, if you think Cosette is a "juicy" role… Oh, and does "Eton choir soloist" qualify as classical training for singing? Because yeah, that's Eddie Redmayne.

(5) … I love Andrea Arnold too, but this is a really odd comparison because not only are they entirely different filmmakers with very different skill-sets and visions, but they are working under completely different impetuses. You're unjustly punishing Hooper for seeming to retain the spirit of the story and giving it the grand scope that a set upon the stage cannot ever hope to achieve, for doing what he set out to do and doing what the fans of the show want, which is to make a big-screen adaptation of a beloved musical that is worthy of its quarter-century legacy. There may come a time and a place when a groundbreaking reinvisioning of Les Miserables blows everyone's minds, but Hooper is not a hack for not being the man to do that job, and the fans are not brain-dead sheep for wanting what Hooper seems to be on the verge of delivering.


I'm loving these replies.

Seriously, I'm nervous about Les Mis not living up to expectations, but that's because I have HIGH expectations… this is *classic* source material that people around the world are totally in love with, myself included. People have been waiting for the musical to be made into a film for over 25 years. That is this movie's appeal. Pure and simple. And it is a cross-generational appeal with no age boundaries. Teenagers love Les Mis as much as old people. They're obsessed. Trust me.

Les Mis is going to meet with inevitable criticism NOT because Tom Hooper is directing it, but because so many people adore the stage musical and the story, and will probably nitpick it to death, as hardcore fans of anything would.

You do realize that Hugh Jackman chased after the lead role more than he's chased after any role in his life?

And where on Earth are the whitewashing complaints coming from? You do realize this story is set in FRANCE? Exactly what did you expect?


Okay. I don't really know Rodrigo's writing on The Playlist but I have defended Gabe's opinions against commentariat backlash before, and I more than respect a staff writer and critic's right to have a seemingly unpopular or contrarian opinion. That being said, I can't defend laziness — and this is what this piece is rife with: laziness. Please do your research, gentlemen, instead of falling on rote and overly simplistic (and the worst offender, plainly and egregiously INCORRECT) assumptions regarding the source material, the target audience, and the merits of the creative team behind the film. I do believe you capable of it, as I have seen evidence of informed opinions in the past that are sadly lacking here. I am not calling you out because I am an enraged fan. I am calling you out because the both of you are doing this write-up from a frighteningly misinformed/uninformed angle, the likes of which this frankly invalidates your entire premise. Riddle me this: was Oliver not available for this particular piece? I would expect him at least to do the necessary research and not tar and feather Hooper's pedigree with an indiscriminate Stuff That White People Like brush.


These writers have an unbelievable ignorance of the material and the stars. A book considered one of the great novels, a musical that hasn't been out of production for more than 25 years with a global audience, an all star cast with both stage and film credits not too mention a large collection of Tony, Drama Desk, and Olivier awards. If you are going to review or comment on a motion picture at least take the time to learn something about it.


I'd have to guess that these 2 so-called writers are very young and don't get out much. They also don't know how to do research. The 'for' guy didn't even write a piece that could be considered pro anything. It certainly isn't pro Les Miserables. A musical "your parents likely attended" says it all. This guy knows nothing about the diverse, world wide fan base of Les Miserables. But he wasn't as bad as the other guy. The 'against' guy is a total moron. He so loves the ideas spewing out of his brain that he can write several paragraphs of total nonsense and not make a single valid point. He was supposed to write why Les Miserables won't be a hit and spent most of his time writing about what was wrong with other films. And what the heck does "white people-palooza" or “somewhere I work” mean and what does it have to do with Les Miserables? The guy is also clueless about Hugh Jackman's resume, what the story is or how Tom Hooper is making this very different from previous musicals. Oh, by the way, it's the longest running musical (27 yrs and counting) not second longest. It's based on a classic novel that is one of the best books ever written and it's still being read after 150 years. So, both of you, there are a lot of people interested in this film. Do some research and learn how to write especially if you're trying to make a point. And your point was….what???…exactly?????


Wow. Why so angry and bitter, Gabe T.?


This article is crap. This person has clearly never read the book or seen the musical.


It's going to bomb at the box office.


Good Lord, this article has done no research on Hugo's masterpiece or the stage musical. This does not take place during the French Revolution, but the student uprising of 1832. These two events are separated by 33 years.

Secondly, the argument that The King's Speech stole The Social Network's Oscars is getting both old and annoying. They were both highly acclaimed, as were the other 8 film nominated for Best Picture that year. Saying TSN was the more beloved of the two is also questionable in that TKS made almost 200 million more at the boxoffice.


Les Misérables has always had a wide audience across the globe. There are many young people such as myself who are looking forward to seeing this film as well. There are so many characters whom people can identify with. Older audiences can empathize with Fantine's parental instincts. Younger people can with Eponine, the students, etc. Pretty much anyone can identify with the idea of redemption seen with Jean Valjean. The themes are timeless. There are many parallels between the events of the story and the things that are currently going on in the world now.

Also, the story takes place during the June Rebellion aka the Paris Uprising of 1832, years after the French Revolution.


"I'll concede to any naysayers that as a piece of source material, it could be dull" – wow, have you even read the book? There is a reason it's a classic. It is one of the most beautifully written novels ever. If the pace of it seems too slow for you, then I feel badly for you. You are missing a lot.

Sarah B

Yeah, what Mary said. Remember how the young girls went crazy for Leonardo Di Caprio in 'Titanic'? Well, this movie has about 15 Leonardo Di Caprios in it. Bring lots of Kleenex.


In my experience, the audience for Les Mis has never been old moms. It's been teenage girls. Walk into any high school musical addition and I guarantee you'll be treated to a variety of renditions of On My Own and Castle on a Cloud. And they may not have a lot of say come award season, but box office wise, I'm guessing they'll show up in droves to watch half the cast die tragically, singing and unloved.

Sarah B

"Les Miserables" is not set during the French Revolution. Please do your research.

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