There are movies you regret living long enough to have seen. And then there are those films that remove your zest for life and have you cursing the cruel dickbag gods for not releasing you before the fucking credits roll. Les Miserables is the latter: an excruciating (nearly) 3 hour descent into the horrors and despair of the 19th century French uprising known as the July Revolt – and the toll it took on its citizenry.
The year is 1815. It’s been 2 decades since the French Revolution and France is still a dumpster fire in terms of quality of life (less guillotines, though). People are starving….often forced into indentured slavery or prostitution (or both); and children run wild in the streets without parents and often without limbs. A petty thief (Jean Valjean) who’s spent 19 years in prison for stealing bread finally gets paroled but not before receiving a stern reprimand from a humorless, tone-deaf policeman named Jovert (stoically played by an uncomfortable and bored looking Russell Crowe). Shortly thereafter, Valjean (Hugh Jackman at his most teary-eyed and insufferable) throws caution to the wind, skips parole, steals from a church and eventually (some years later) winds up the sole caretaker of a dead hooker’s kid (with the film climaxing during the revolt of 1832) all while the bored cop hunts him relentlessly (but completely incompetently as Valjean lives out in the open pretty much 100% of the time).
He’s straight, I swear. He married his mom, after all.
And that’s as far as I’ll go recounting Victor Hugo’s tale. Because this isn’t the famed author’s masterwork…it’s an insipid, horrible fucking musical that uses shitty melodies and enormous lapses in time and logic to hammer its oh-so-precious point home (again and again and again) into your head until you slump in your chair and weep silently as if you just sat through a marathon-length documentary on the suffering of Somali puppies. I’m still hostile at this point that I was forced to sit through it…and that I still draw breath the day after.
The composer of the musical version of Les Miserables is Claude-Michel Schonberg. He’s perhaps best remembered as the talentless cocksucker who forced Miss Saigon on the world. Yes, that French fucking hack. The very one who almost single-handedly destroyed Broadway (with Andrew Lloyd Weber his oft-willing cunty co-conspirator). His music wanders that ever-mercurial border between boring and tedious. Some of Les Miserables songs go nowhere; others were so favored by the self-impressed Frog that he reprises them repeatedly throughout the musical’s dreadful 157 minutes. Remember that Susan Boyle near-snuff video everyone kept passing around some years back (seemingly astounded by her awful warbled Scottish banshee wails)? She sang a horrible song called “I Dreamed a Dream”. I’m sorry to say but that shit’s one of the “showpieces” of Les Miserables. That’s pretty much what you can expect if you choose to sit through this dreck except the singers are admittedly hotter but just as unwashed.
While Les Miserables has audibly raped audiences for years, this version was supposed to be unique in that it featured “huge Hollywood names” and was recorded live…that is, each singer sang their songs in one take and the orchestral chords were inserted after during the editing process. I can honestly say this experiment will be a one off: many of the songs are flat-out incorrectly paced and, especially in Crowe’s case, completely sung out of tune. So, why are people going on and on about the film’s music? My theory is they just don’t know any better. We’re a society force-fed sub-par horseshit weekly by awful shows like X-Factor and American Idol…and it’s watered down our tastes and made us generally more accepting of mediocrity. And Les Miserables is a visceral, primal example of the worst kind of mediocrity passing itself off as “art”.
The biggest mistake of Les Miserables is its uninspired choice of director. Tom Hooper is the “genius” who gave the world The King’s Speech and The Damned United (which all 14 people who saw them really enjoyed). But his approach to Les Miserables is to film everything close up (with the background blurred out). I’m talking claustrophobia close – you can see every pore, nostril hair and straining epiglottis. The film gives the scenery no room to breath on its own..it’s just one close-up of a tortured face singing…then cuts to another tortured face singing. I can count on one hand the number of times a set was even shown. The editing (and decision to focus only on the actors’ faces) were disastrous and make this an effort in tortuous futility and one of the most awe-inspiringly awful theater experiences ever forced on man.
You’ve come a long way, baby.
As far as individual performances, they range from good to uninspired to downright pig-fucking horrible. To be fair, I’ll start with the meager good the movie manages (and the “good” I’m referring to is marginal by any other measure). Two performances stand out amongst the myriad awful ones turned in by the shitty cast. As Eponine (a shopkeeper’s hapless and horny daughter), Samantha Barks is amazing. She eats every scene she’s in…and that makes the movie unwatchable when she’s not on screen, which is a lot (and her “end” is the only moment where the film approaches hitting a real “emotional” note that isn’t contrived or forced or just downright boring). The other would be Anne Hathaway. She sings the supposed “best song” of Les Miserables…but due to her doing it in one long take while “brimming with crackling emotion” and the ill-advised close-up filming technique, the end result isn’t singing so much as an atrocious example of choking and gasping on screen. And because we’ve become so desensitized to mediocrity, she’ll likely wind up winning the Oscar for “best cum gargling”; and that’s unfortunate because Samantha turns in 10x the performance Anne squeezes out of her 6 dreadful minutes on camera.
And the good ends there. The rest tends to be drab and dull (Hugh Jackman, once again, raising reasonable questions about his sexual proclivities) and Amanda Seyfried (as Cosette) being forced to sing well above her range and pretend her tired, well-tread uterus is only 17. And then there’s Russell Crowe. Sure, he puts out a good flick (usually) and can even play a mean guitar, but that fuck just can’t sing. At all. Some men can do it all…but singing is Crowe’s Achilles heel. He’s awful. Just fucking awful. Every despairing note is well above his natural baritone making it sound like he’s on the verge of taking an enormous shit. And he looks so fucking bored. Why he chose to do this and that Monkey Iron Fist faggery in the same year is beyond me. I’m just assuming the Syphilis he picked up from Meg Ryan is finally taking its toll.
The movie ends with the somewhat well-known song “Do You Hear The People Sing”. This should be an emotional rallying cry for unity and equality – but comes off boring and is also relegated to a series of close-ups of all the
I’m only 17! And a virgin! And pigs fly out of my ass!
dead cast members’ faces. And that raises another question…why do people keep dying for no reason? Let me spoil this experience for you by acknowledging that several cast members die…a few for no apparent reason. (SPOILERS AHEAD) Like Fantine and Valjean…both seemingly die of “broken hearts” or guilt or some shit. Why does Fantine die? It’s her first night as a hooker; and after one brief and tawdry throw with a coiffed French soldier (who probably mistook her for a 12 year old boy), she starts dying. Never mind that every other ragged French whore has been on her back for years. Fantine only needs one bad fuck to do her in (even though most women survive that their Freshman year of college).
The joys of Les Miserables are beyond scarce. I’m taking the kind of rare usually reserved for cryptozoology or finding Speed Stick deodorant in Paris. If you sit through this, expect to be bewildered, regretful and perhaps even murderous by the end. It’s as abysmal a movie-going experience as has ever existed.
Basement Cheetoh Eater is a proud member of the AIBN Founders Crew and frequent contributor to the site (and infamous Bale-worshipping ArchBishop of the 'Professional Confessional'). After inevitable banishment from the Ain't It Cool News boards, he found a home with like-minded brethren (who appreciate and understand the innate need to destroy amateurism wherever it may be found). He is a resident of Washington DC and can regularly be found passed out in gutters in and around Capital Hill.