x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Cute actors not enough to lift Misérables to sunny teen fare

Les Misérables shows us that life can be terribly cruel and our fate is wildly out of our control. Pleasant lessons for impressionable young minds.

Teenagers come in all sorts of weird and wonderful varieties. Emos are a subgroup that have gained notoriety for being particularly pessimistic. Instead of being told to stop moping, these teenagers ought to be patted on the back and given a new eyebrow piercing as a present. Far from being emotional wrecks, they have simply been transcending history and making deep, realistic observations about life – thinking along the lines of one of the greatest literary figures of the 19th century, Victor Hugo. Their cheery outlook on life is echoed in the movie Les Misérables, based on Hugo’s novel.

Having read favourable reviews, we set off to the cinema, ready for the sob fest with tissues stuffed in our denim pockets. The plot is mind-numbingly complicated, to say the least, and it’s easy to lose track of what’s going on as the numerous storylines meander, twist and reappear. Yet the cast overcomes this potential pitfall with powerful, touching performances that can melt the most hardened teenage heart. Les Misérables shows us, if anything, that life can be terribly cruel and our fate is wildly out of our control. Pleasant lessons for impressionable young minds.

It starts off in 19th-century France, where Jean Valjean is a convict released on parole. When he breaks parole, he is mercilessly hunted by the evil policeman Javert. Meanwhile, Anne Hathaway’s brilliantly emotive Fantine, finding herself fired from a factory job, turns to prostitution to support her cute blonde daughter Cosette. (Skip this if you don’t want a plot spoiler.) Fantine dies and Cosette finds herself the servant of the owners of a bar who bully her all the while doting on their own daughter Éponine – very reminiscent of the Harry Potter-Dursleys relationship. Eventually, Cosette is adopted by Valjean, now rich and powerful. We are dozing off slightly when the main figures of interest make their spectacular entry.

Set in the turbulent 1830s, but we don’t find that quite as fascinating as the appearance of the first relatively young male leads. “Oh look, he’s so brave,” sighed my friend Linda,“and those curls! Aaron Tveit is definitely mine.” Tina, meanwhile, was undecided between Tveit and Eddie Redmayne’s Marius. Marius is the key point in a love triangle, having fallen for Cosette but loved in vain by Éponine. We all tut-tutted sympathetically for Éponine, what girl can’t empathise with unrequited love?

Sadly enough, Tveit’s character falls off a building to a messy end. Come to think about it, nearly the whole cast dies. Valjean has the villain Javert at his mercy, but lets him go instead of shooting him. Javert finds this so heart-rending that he throws himself off a bridge. As the wedding bells ring for Cosette and Marius, Valjean decides that everything is all lovely, so kicks the bucket. It all makes for light, comic entertainment.

The singing was expressive, the whole movie slickly put together and the sets magnificent, but Les Misérables serves a reality check that is too harsh for teenagers. I prefer films that offer an escape from the daily turmoil – which, so far, is an art only Disney has mastered.

 

Lavanya Malhotra is a 17-year-old student in Dubai