I never thought I could like a musical movie. High School Musical was, to say the least, more than I could tolerate.
However, I knew from the second that I walked into the sold-out Les Misérables show that it would be so much more than just another musical movie, and it would give so much more to audiences than Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens could muster.
The movie is based on the original novel written by Victor Hugo in 1862, one of the longest but most influential novels of the 19th century. Set in post-French Revolution Paris and its neighboring towns, “Les Mis” tells the story of Jean Valjean, an ex-convict who transforms himself into a force for good but is always haunted by his dark past.
Along his road to redemption, he comes across Fantine, a young prostitute struggling to support herself and her daughter Cosette. Valjean is constantly pursued by Javert, the inspector of police, whose lifelong ambition is to put Valjean behind bars for his past crimes. When Fantine dies of hopelessness and despair, Valjean takes in Cosette and raises her as his own, though the two have to live in hiding from Javert.
With an all-star cast including Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried, the movie is not lacking in acting ability. Uncharacteristic of many blockbusters, it had a raw realism about it that put less emphasis on lighting and special effects and more on single-angle close-ups and live singing. Needless to say, the cast mastered the art of singing while crying.
Contrary to many musical movies, all singing in "Les Mis" was done on set, as opposed to pre-recording a soundtrack and lip-syncing. It made Anne Hathaway’s red-faced, vein-bulging performance of the iconic song “I Dreamed a Dream” all the more believable. It conveyed real passion, suffering and anguish, emotions that can’t genuinely be captured in a recording studio. After all, the title of the film is “The Miserables.”
Even if you aren’t a big fan of musicals, "Les Mis" is about more than just musical numbers. It’s a story of a people who were tired of being oppressed by the government. It’s a story of redemption, of not allowing the past to define the future. It’s a story of compassion, and of banding together with others when times are tough. Although it centers around a group of people in misery, that plot has an incorrigible sense of hope for the future that translates to all audiences.
Whether you are looking for heroism, violence, history, friendship or love, Les Misérables has something to offer everyone this winter break. Underneath its musical exterior, the film’s passion, emotion and hopeful nature are universal. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, I think that we could all use a little hope in our lives. Who would have thought that we could find it in a movie theater?