For fans of the epic, enduring stage spectacular Les Miserables, a movie version worth watching has been a long time coming. And because of the play's enduring popularity, the movie's all-star cast and the preemptive Oscar buzz - the hype for its Christmas Day opening was undeniably huge.
But realistically, could the flick ever live up to its fevered expectation?
I'm a lifelong Les Miz fan(atic) - a tradition passed down from my parents before me. My father scored us seats on Broadway just ahead of NYC's millennium celebration, and it made my little teenage heart swell to twice its size. Like so many others, I was waiting with baited breath and absurdly high expectations to see this year's big screen incarnation.
For those of us who are emotionally invested in all that is Les Miz, it's hard to hate any version of Hugo's masterpiece, particularly when put to song. The 1998 Neeson/Rush/Thurman edition was such a schmaltzy disappointment, however, that I tried to keep from getting carried away by buzz for the newest interpretation.
I scored tickets for myself and my mother a week ahead of Christmas - and the theaters were already filling up fast. A loyal Paragon Grove girl (beer AND pre-selected seats? Yes, please.), I scooped up a "love seat" in their new Premier VIP section. Two by twos means you don't have to sit next to strangers, and the leather seats are plush and comfy. Swanky digs for my emotional meltdown.
At our 3:15 p.m. showing, the venue was abuzz with activity. Our theater was a mix of mainly couples, young to old, and judging solely by facial expressions, I'd venture most dudes were dragged along, undoubtedly after having to endure months of excited twittering, Broadway soundtrack singalongs and Hugh Jackman-inspired swoons.
As the lights dimmed and the French flag came roaring into view, I could feel eyes widen and hands clasp across the theater.
The best way to sum up the 127 minutes that followed is as such: if you love Les Miz on Broadway, you'll love the big screen version. Period.
It is - for all intents and purposes - a rousing, sweeping spectacle, geared towards fans of musical theater. True to its Broadway roots, it's full of emotionally-charged close-ups, roaring orchestrations and stifled sobs (by both the cast and the audience). Is it over the top? Absolutely. Is it melodramatic? Of course. Is it worth the hype? Without a doubt.
Hugh Jackman, Hollywood's singing Boy Scout extraordinaire, was born to play Jean Valjean. And yes, as everyone on earth has already said, Anne Hathaway's near-hysterical I Dreamed a Dream is impressive. Other cast standouts, in this girl's opinion, are Aaron Tveit as Enjolras, Samantha Barks as Eponine and Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche. I cried bitter tears for all three as though I hadn't read, heard and watched them die 250 times before.
As with the Broadway version, Javert's character is wooden and sometimes tiresome. Russell Crowe struggles with singing, but holds his own. Cosette and Marius' love story is predictably colorless. And the streets of France look much like a stage set. It's Broadway on the big screen, right down to the near-cartoonish appearance of prostitutes, beggars and Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers.
In the final moments, as the camera panned away from waving flags atop a barricade, I heard audience sniffles in surround sound. I scanned my fellow moviegoers and saw exactly what I expected: women dabbing at their cheeks with tissues while men checked their phones.
If you like musical theater, 19th century France and the human spirit - you won't be disappointed. Some people, however, would undoubtedly prefer the bloody stylings of Django Unchained. Our critic, for example, wasn't impressed. But for 60 million Les Miz fans across the globe, this flick is just what we've been waiting for.
Who'll like it:
Les Miz fangirls and boys.
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Anyone uncomfortable with shows of emotion.