“At the end of the day you get nothing for nothing/Sitting flat on your butt doesn’t buy any bread!”
Alright, I know what you’re thinking: How could another adaptation of a 150 year-old book that’s already been done every single way imaginable—plays, ballets, movies—still be exciting? For those people either unfamiliar with Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel Les Misérables or generally uninterested in the idea of going to see a musical at the theater: “Sit yourself down and meet the best Innkeeper in town!”
The story begins in 19th century France (I suggest brushing up on your world history before watching!), a turbulent period of time to say the least. Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) has been imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread for his relatives (can ya blame him?), and is sentenced to slave away under the watch of lawman Javert.
Valjean breaks his parole and ends up out in the streets as a beggar. Years later, he revamps himself as a businessman and mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer under a false alias Monsieur Madeleine. By fate, him and Javert meet again after Valjean rescues a man named Fauchelevent on the street; Valjean’s strength alarms Javert and he is sure this is the same man who stole the loaf of bread not so long ago.
Later, one of Valjean’s factory workers Fantine (Anne Hathaway) has been caught sending money to her illegitimate child Cosette (Isabelle Allen, later Amanda Seyfried) living under the care of the dreadful Thénardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter). She is then kicked out by the factory foreman and left jobless, with no choice other than to turn to prostitution.
Valjean and Javert meet yet again on the streets during Fantine’s argument with an abusive customer. As Javert is about to arrest her, Valjean intervenes: “Before you say another word, Javert/ Before you chain me up like a slave again/ Listen to me! There is something I must do./ This woman leaves behind a suffering child./ There is none but me who can intercede.” Javert accepts Valjean’s request, and Fantine is instead sent to the hospital. Valjean then vows to a near-dying Fantine that he will take Cosette in and raise her as his own.
Nine years later, while Cosette and Javert are out in public, Cosette catches a student Marius Pontmercy’s (Eddie Redmayne) eye and he falls in love instantly. Not sure when he will ever see her again, he turns to his friend (who’s actually in love with him) Éponine (Samantha Barks) to lead him back to Cosette. From then on out Les Misérables turns into the love story of Cosette and Marius, to which Valjean must come to grips with the reality of giving away his daughter.
You can’t really spoil a 150 year-old novel, but just in case I will spare the ending. But from Tom Hooper’s (The King’s Speech) direction to the impeccable set design, all the way back to Anne Hathaway’s much anticipated “I Dreamed a Dream” scene, everything about the near three hour over-the-top musical is gorgeously done. And as a big fan of musicals, I can definitely vouch for Hooper, Inc. and say that despite the story’s inevitable tragedies, Les Misérables is heartfelt and truly a lot of fun (I need a ringback of Russell Crowe singing, “Do not forget my name! Do not forget me, 24601!”)