Musicals are silly. Come on, admit it, they are. They are and they always have been. You can postulate and pontificate all you want about how musicals possess the power of spectacle and majesty, that the capacity to move and to inspire can only be found in the musical note, that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang wouldn’t have been the same without ‘Truly Scrumptious’, but the fact is, people spontaneously bursting into harmonious song, mid-conversation, is utterly absurd. ABSURD. It defies all known logic.
None are more sillier than Les Misérables, a musical which invites us to believe that in its depressing fictional universe, everyone sings, pretty much the whole time. Save for the odd word here or there, everything is sung, which must make mundane conversations about compiling a weekly shopping list or talking on the phone to the DVLA a bit more colourful, I suppose.
Still, in spite of its inherent and overarching silliness Les Misérables has managed to be one of the biggest musicals of all time and now – indicative of the current cosy symbiosis between Hollywood and Broadway – it comes to the big screen, in epic, bombastic, awards-hoovering form.
I actually love musicals, despite what’s just been said, but I’m suspicious of those who take themselves too seriously – who are wilfully ignorant of their own silliness – and so with no familiarity of the book or the musical on which it is based, I went to see Les Mis expecting to be either bored out of my little skull, or in floods of begrudging tears. My experience has been charted on this handy graph.
To be fair to Tom Hooper, a director whose King’s Speech could have comfortably slotted into a BBC Sunday evening teatime, he’s managed cinematic spectacle rather well here, and Les Misérables is visually very strong and often joyfully extravagant, with performances – Rusty notwithstanding – to match.
But the singing is silly. Come on, it really is. And Les Mis takes itself laughably too seriously. At no point was my disbelief swept from under me: it was right at the front of my mind, disbelieving the fact that 19th century French peasants had such impressive baritone range.
Still, words are meaningless. As tedious as it is, Les Misérables is critic-proof. As I left the cinema, scoffing quietly under my breath, I overheard a woman snottily wiping away the tears. “What are you crying for?” her boyfriend lamented. “How could that have been a surprise? You already saw it last week.”