Ever since the first time I saw it on stage as a teenager, I’ve been a huge fan of Les Miserables. The musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s story of revolution and romance, and particularly his heroic, downtrodden Jean Valjean enraptured me instantly. I’ve seen the show at every opportunity, purchased the incredible Symphonic edition and the DVD of the concert performance (the incredible 10th Anniversary edition, not the miscast 25th Anniversary version), and even read part of Hugo’s massive novel. I’ve been waiting anxiously for a faithful film adaptation of the movie, having to survive with only the non-musical Billie August version as a cinematic experience (Liam Neeson doing a good job of capturing Valjean’s inner conflict, but it’s a poor substitute for the musical).
I was quite surprised when it was announced that Tom Hooper was working on an adaptation of the musical for the big screen. Although the director is a strange pick to adapt a musical, working on period piece dramas like The King’s Speech and John Adams and with no real musical credit to his name, I feel like he can draw out the emotional side of the story. This is a story about inner conflict – the conflict of Jean Valjean to be righteous despite the law; the conflict of Javert to get his man despite the prisoner possibly not being who he thinks he is – and Hooper is a director with a talent for showcasing that. Just look at The King’s Speech and tell me Hooper doesn’t understand inner conflict. If Hooper was a strange choice to direct, however, his casting decisions are bordering the surreal, with some new casting revelations made in the past few days that bring my concern over the project to an almost full-bore rage.
First, a look back at previously announced casting decisions. Hooper grabbed one of the hottest names on Broadway and in cinema right now when he snagged Hugh Jackman. The addition of one of Broadway’s latest flavors is quite an accomplishment, but Jackman seems incorrectly suited to play the story’s protagonist, Jean Valjean, who has to be a chain-gang prisoner, a high society mayor, and a recluse who ages twenty-some years over the course of the story. I have faith in Jackman’s ability to do it, but the role almost seems more appropriate for Russell Crowe, who has been cast opposite Jackman as Inspecter Javert, the relentless officer who pursues Valjean over the ages. I don’t know what it is about Crowe, but he just looks more like the fatherly figure I would expect Valjean to be, while I could easily see Jackman pulling off Javert’s obsessive pursuit, and the song “Stars” would be a glorious thing in Jackman’s voice.
As if the initial casting wasn’t strange enough, this week Twitchfilm.com reports that Amanda Seyfried (Momma Mia!) will be cast as Cosette, the young girl Valjean rescues and adopts after holding himself responsible for her mother’s death – a mother, Fantine, that is being played by Anne Hathaway. Again, I could see these two being reversed, with Hathaway a stronger pick for Cosette. Actually, I don’t have anything against Seyfried (other than maybe In Time), but Momma Mia! scarred me deeply in regards to contemporary musical adaptations. Seyfried’s wispy appearance works better for the weak Fantine, but I can see her playing Cosette with some skill.
No, the unforgivable casting that has turned my mind (and my stomach) against this project is Twitchfilm’s other casting tidbit: playing Eponine, the street urchin who holds an unrequited love for the man Cosette falls in love with (and who has one of the best songs about unrequited love of all time, “On My Own”) will be none other than Taylor Swift. You know Swift: the self-made woman of Nashville who single-handedly drained all scenes of Valentines Day she was in of any talent? Yes, she was that bad in Valentines Day – so bad that many of that ensemble cast went on to have terrible follow-up films, they were so robbed of their acting skills.
Okay, maybe I’m being a little hyperbolic there, but she really was bad, and now Hooper is giving her one of the greatest songs in musical history. Eponine is another character filled with inner-conflict – a conflict so strong that it’s practically bursting as she hangs on every word Marius says, and ultimately sacrifices her self for him in a selfish, yet selfless act. I think Swift can absolutely kill the song assuming Hooper doesn’t let her twang it up, but I just don’t think she has the chops to pull off the acting the part calls for.
Now, I’ll be the first to say this is an unreasonable response (that’s why this is one of my rants instead of straight news) and the truth is I probably will see the movie regardless of Swift’s involvement, if there actually is involvement. Many other actresses have auditioned for the part and no official casting notice has been made yet. It just seems like there was a right way to go with the casting and Hooper has missed every potential opportunity in favor of bigger names and faces – the same problem that plagues a big part of the 25th Anniversary Concert performance. Of course, we’re also getting Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the big comedic relief for the film, playing the greedy Thenardiers, so the project has that going for it. Plus, some might say any film adaptation of the musical is better than no adaptation, but I can’t help but think there has to be something better than this.
What do you think? Has there been a time where you found yourself blindly fuming over perceived poor casting decisions? Can Taylor Swift redeem her poor cinematic history and surprise people (a la Madonna in Evita)? Is this adaptation of Les Miserables doomed?