Amid all the love for ‘Les Miserables,’ a few critics revolt
BY SUSAN WLOSZCZYNA January 29, 2013 8:25PM
This film image released by Universal Pictures shows Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, left, and Anne Hathaway as Fantine in a scene from "Les Miserables." The film was nominated for an Academy Award for best picture on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. The 85th Academy Awards will air live on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013 on ABC. (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)
Updated: March 2, 2013 7:12AM
“Les Misérables” is much more than just the feel-sad movie of the Oscar season.
Not that the best-picture contender, the first musical to compete in the category since 2002’s “Chicago,” doesn’t live up to its name. Four major characters die during the course of its 157 minutes, along with sundry student revolutionaries sacrificing themselves for a lost cause, all the while singing in close-up.
But “Les Mis” also has earned a reputation as the feel-angry film of the year. Judging by their published vitriol, a number of notable pundits who experienced the big-screen version of Broadway’s 1987 Tony winner leave the dark of the theater fairly frothing with disgust, repulsion and, yes, hate.
One of the most-read expressions of post-“Les Mis” stress disorder on the Internet comes courtesy of Matt Walsh. At least the blog entry by the Lexington, Ky., talk-radio host — which bears the telling headline “ ‘Les Misérables’ taught me how to hate again” — manages to be funny while lacerating the object of his scorn.
But the king of “Les Mis”-anthropy has to be David Denby of the New Yorker. “The movie is not just bad,” Denby brayed in an online screed. “It’s terrible. It’s dreadful. Overbearing, pretentious, madly repetitive. I was doubly embarrassed because all around me, in a very large theater, people were sitting rapt, awed, absolutely silent, only to burst into applause after some of the numbers.”
These scoffing scribes do not represent a majority opinion, given that “Les Mis” has gathered eight Oscar nominations and three Golden Globe wins. In fact, most critics lean toward the positive, judging by the 70 percent thumbs-up score on the review-tracking website Rottentomatoes.com.
Industry professionals aren’t immune to the emotional tsunami. Scores of celebrities, some with still-damp eyes, have taken to Twitter to express their rapturous seals of approval, including Katie Couric, Ellen Page, Jon Favreau, Larry King and Zach Braff (who wrote, “If crying 3 times during a movie musical is wrong, I don’t wanna be right”).
Such widespread acceptance only inflames the detractors. The harder the public embraces “Les Mis,” the louder they bellow.
The New York Times initially ran an evenhanded though mixed review by Manohla Dargis. But then theater critic Charles Isherwood felt compelled to chime in with a column in which he confessed to falling asleep during his first attempt to see the film, forcing him to go back again.
“Should you, too, find yourself drifting off to dreamland at some point,” he wrote, “rest assured that upon waking, you will find that someone is singing, and someone is suffering. Usually it’s the same person, with a tear- or sweat-stained face stretched across the screen so that no nuance of misery will go unrecorded.”
The real fun began as the New Yorker decided to become Ground Zero for “Les Mis” abuse. Besides killjoy Denby, fellow critic Anthony Lane was his usual waggish self as he let loose with his slams in the magazine’s print edition: “Fans of the original production, no doubt, will eat the movie up, and good luck to them. I screamed a scream as time went by.”
Cameron Mackintosh has heard the naysaying before as producer of “Les Mis” both on stage and screen.
When the stage version premiered in London’s West End in 1985, he notes, “the critics didn’t get it early. But the public did. It’s always been the ‘people’s musical.’ The subject is about them, not the intellectuals who think they know better.”
Gannett News Service