The film starts in 1815, where a bunch of men, who are slaves and prisoners, are pulling up the French flag that was buried underwater. One of them, named Jean Valjean, begs Javert, the police inspector, that he stole bread to save his starving nephew. He is given parole, even though he won’t have success finding a job.
But the Bishop of Digne gladly shelters him. After that, though, he breaks his parole and presumes a new identity.
Eight years have passed. Valjean watches a bunch of factory women work. One of them, Fantine, gets fired when the others learn that she has a daughter, Cosette, whom they claim to be illegitimate, and is forced to serve the nasty and greedy Thenardier family. Fantine wants to support Cosette, and the other factory women give her a hard time.
Fantine is desperate for more money. Eventually, she even goes to the point where she gives up her long hair, and even a tooth, to sell. Javert arrests her, but Valjean demands that she goes to the hospital instead.
Later, while on her deathbed, Fantine sings about how she will miss Cosette. Valjean visits her and promises to care for Cosette.
The scene switches to Cosette miserably sweeping the floor of the Thenardier family, singing about a castle in the sky, and a woman wearing white, who holds her and sings her lullabies. She even mentions that no crying is allowed (and I thought, not even tears of joy?).
Then the couple forces Cosette to fetch some water from a well in the woods. Meanwhile, they pamper their own daughter, Eponine.
While Cosette is about to get the water, Valjean finds her. She is scared, but he says that he is there to save her from the cruel family she serves. So, she trusts him. The two escape to sanctuary, and he then adopts her.
Nine years later, Valjean is now a philanthropist for the French government. But he is also no longer the same man who rescued Cosette from the Thenardier family. Rather, he is pretty much the opposite.
Cosette meets Eponine, who is in love with a guy named Marius. But she also falls in love with him–only for Valjean to interfere and demand that she returns inside the house.
When Marius and Cosette make their romantic relationship official, Eponine is heartbroken. But stakes rise as the battle occurs and more lives are lost.
This film differs from many other movies I’ve watched, where they start out lighthearted but intensify. But here, I found it to be the reverse.
If the slaves and prisoners didn’t suffer enough, Valjean had to lift something heavy, and no one could help him.
Not only did that upset me, but also how much of the French people in the film were poor and covered in filth. They also didn’t wear shoes, which depicted how much they suffered from their poverty.
Yet, they did everything they could to work together and save their country. Much of that was done by the Friends of the ABC, a revolutionist group who planned to fight against the monarchy.
Another aspect of this film that is similar to that is when Cosette had to serve the Thenardier family, who treated her like dirt, but loved their own daughter, and claimed that she behaved. This reminded me of Cinderella.
Not just that part–but also when Valjean found Cosette and showed compassion to her. I don’t even know if she got to see her mother that much.
After he freed her from the Thenardiers and stated that they’ll forget her (they actually did forget her name at times later, which I thought was clever and funny), he gifted her a doll, and took her to a carriage, where she slept on his lap.
I found that a bit bizarre since she had just met him, and I actually can’t see any real child sleeping on the lap of a stranger who rescued him/them/her.
However, at the same time, it was heartwarming and beautiful. Valjean even stated that he would be a loving mother and father to Cosette at the same time.
So, it disappointed me when Valjean became the opposite nine years later. Cosette even reminded him of that moment, and the kindness and compassion he’d shown her. But he didn’t seem to care anymore. He would not let Cosette have the freedom she longed for.
When she fell in love with Marius, their relationship became very sweet. He eventually treated her better than Valjean. The couple even got engaged at some point.
Speaking of which… when I saw Marius, I almost shouted, “Newt Scamander!” He was played by the same actor who played Newt in the Fantastic Beasts films, the Harry Potter spinoffs: Eddie Redmayne – who surprised me with his beautiful singing voice, long after I saw him in the Fantastic Beasts movies.
The movie is mostly musical numbers, with some occasional dialogue – but at most, just a few lines, and not between every song. The songs’ lengths also ranged from long to short.
Although the musical numbers kept me engaged, the shorter ones also caused the story to lag. The movie does run just over two and a half hours, so I did lose my attention at times.
The film was also kind of hard to follow – to the point where I relied on Wikipedia to know what happened. I would read the song titles in chronological order to help me comprehend the story more.
Part of the reason the movie confused me was the constant switching of POVs. I understand that it’s important and necessary for character development, but I felt that it was done too frequently and quickly, one after another musical number.
The confusions and lagging of story bored me occasionally. However, it might have been because I didn’t know it too well before seeing it.
Sometimes knowing a story before seeing an adaptation of it, whether it’s a TV/on-demand series, movie, or live performance, might help you enjoy it more.
On the bright side, I admired the actors’ talents to sing and sob at the same time.
A notable example was when Fantine was chained inside a box during the “I Dreamed a Dream” number. She expressed her sadness about how she hoped things would improve but never did.
One other part that stood out to me was how Valjean aged in an unusual way. He was a prisoner for 19 years at the beginning of the film. He had hardly any hair, a beard, and a scrawny body. But that isn’t surprising.
Hugh Jackman, who played him, actually had to lose 15 pounds for that scene, and then gain 30 pounds for the rest of the film.
Valjean looked no younger than 40s at the beginning, although that’s just my guess. So, later in the movie, when Cosette is a teenager after 17 years had passed since then, he is presumably in, at least, his late 50s.
It’s Javert who did not age for 17 years. But it was probably for filming time and budget reasons. I also know people who’ve barely aged between that number of years
I rate Les Misérables 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Although I found the perks stronger than the drawbacks, the fact that I sometimes had trouble understanding the story kept me from giving it a higher rating.
There were also a few gross scenes that I covered up. But the film is PG-13, so it’s not the best for younger kids.
Yet, I would still recommend it to older kids and adults who love musicals, especially classic ones. But I also suggest knowing, at least, some of the story before seeing the movie.