Why Anne Hathaway should win an Oscar, and thank Patti LuPone in her acceptance speech

I’ll happily jump on the bandwagon* and laud Anne Hathaway (and cast**) for the latest, and best movie version of Les Misérables.   Hathaway has already snatched a Golden Globe nomination for her turn as Fantine, and buzz for an Oscar nod is high.

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… and get this album instead.

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Don’t buy this, go see the movie again…

Fans of the musical may lament that Hollywood stars do not have concert hall voices.  Don’t buy the soundtrack to Les Mis, the movie.  Because it’s not the stage play, or even Les Mis, the concert version.  It’s a movie.

The movie musical historically shies away from close ups and too much cutting.  After all, what’s impressive about Fred and Ginger on roller skates in Shall We Dance is that there’s only one cut in the entire dance sequence.  Judy Garland was one of few stars who given real singing close ups (notably in The Wizard of Oz and For Me and My Gal).  Doris Day got some, but got more medium shots and duets. To the credit of the film’s director, Tom Hooper, much of Les Mis is shot in close up, especially the solo numbers.

Acting in front of a camera is much different than being onstage.  Singing in front of a camera is too.  Hooper had the cast perform each song live.  They are not lip-syncing their performances.  Hathaway, and her fellow Hollywood celebs Russell Crowe, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen earned their keep singing, but the reason they and not the stage cast should be in the movie is the difference between stage and screen.  On stage, the voice must be perfect.  In the last row, they can’t see your face as much as they can hear your voice.  On the screen, the close up sells emotion, not the voice.les-miserables-movie-photo-25

In one long, close up take, Hathaway performs the emotional bulk of Fantine’s standout number, “I Dreamed a Dream” with virtuoso, heart-wrenching ethos.  The reason Hathaway deserves and Oscar is not because she has the perfect voice for the part.  She doesn’t.  Her voice is nice.  It’s lovely, but it’s not Patti LuPone.  But her performance is a textbook on acting for the camera.  She sells the emotion of the scene by doing the work of an actor.  Hathaway has said that when she watched the film her tears at the scene were because of her emotional connection to the character, necessary as an actor.  Her technique is flawless.  She is Fantine, and the moment is all too real.  Those two minutes on film are jaw-dropping.  When you listen to the performance, it is flawed.  This is not the concert version.  But when you watch the performance, it is flawless, because the moment is so raw and so true.

According to an interview in the Huffington Post, the scene was shot over twenty times, and Hooper used the fourth take.  Performance on stage is nightly, organic communion with an audience because of live presence and immediacy.  Performance on film is the truth under scrutiny.  One critic has said the camera never lies, it just makes things bigger than life.  Hathaway’s performance will hold up under critical gaze for as long as a film can endure.

The popularity of the film will probably wax an wane, as it does for all films.  The stage musical’s popularity is bound to endure, and find a new audience because of the film’s success.  For that, both the stage and screen performers and fans who love it should be please.  And that’s why, when Anne Hathaway receives the Oscar she deserves, she should thank LuPone, and every actress who as ever brought Fantine to life.  They have all told the story faithfully.  Hathaway (and Hooper) know the medium, and understood how to translate Victor Hugo’s story and the musical’s artists (like Claude-Michel Schönberg, the composer) work into the medium for which language is shot and performance is fitted to a smaller frame.

*The Bandwagon is a 1953 MGM musical starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse.  It was directed by one of the kings of movie musicals, Vincent Minelli.

**While Hathaway’s performance is standout, don’t overlook Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Samantha Barks, and the rest of the cast, who also understood and used the medium well.  Kudos, Tom Hooper, kudos.

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About jenletherer

BA, Theater and Speech Communication; English:Creative Writing. Siena Heights University, 2002. MFA, Film Production. Boston University, 2005
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Why Anne Hathaway should win an Oscar, and thank Patti LuPone in her acceptance speech

  1. I feel that Hooper set a very high bar with the the live vocal singing, and sadly, fell short. You’re right about it being a movie and not a stage performance, but I felt that this project should have been a showpiece in how the two can meet and be an incredibly stunning assault on the senses. Instead, it was just too difficult to get past Anne hitting the notes flat, Russell Crowe being just awful (vocally, at least) and Amanda Seyfried playing a role she had no business singing for (that high note in “A Heart Full of Love” has caused a permanent shudder in my eardrum). Having said that, the best performances in this film were Hugh Jackman with “Valjean’s Soliloquy” and Eddie Redmayne with “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”. They both are doing the things that Anne is being praised for, but doing them while delivering incredible vocal performances. As for Anne, she did well. The acting was great. The singing was decent, but I think that in a situation like this, the Academy needs to take into account both the requirements of the role and how well the actor delivered on those expectations. I also have a hard time not groaning when an actress starves herself, cuts her hair and cries onscreen, (Insert “McKayla Maroney is not impressed” meme) as if they’re expecting an award just for going the extra mile. In that regard, I could very well be being unnecessarily critical on Anne, having written her off before she actually had the chance to wow me. Anyway, all of this to say that I thoroughly enjoyed watching the movie, but wouldn’t give it too many of the accolades that are expected to come its way.

    • jenletherer says:

      Valid, Chuck, but I thought her pathos outweighed any problems with her voice. I’d rather hear a voice crack and go flat when the emotion is right. The convention of the stage musical dictates the voice always be perfect, and Les Mis is closely related to opera in that regard. It may be over the top, but I didn’t sense any pandering for awards from the performance, I sensed her in character in the moment. Different reads, I guess. I doubt it will win all the awards it’s predicted to. BUt I hope Hathaway wins. It is the kind of thing that Oscar loves, but in this case, it’s the reason why.

  2. Peter Pollet says:

    I was completely blown away by Hathaway’s performance in this role. And I hate Anne Hathaway. In fact, I was completely disconnected from her character–at first. Then her solo began and she gave me that violently visceral, exceptionally expressive, and brilliantly breathtaking performance. I broke down. I wept. I never thought in a million years that she was capable of delivering such power on the screen. I agree, Jen, she really did her work as an actor here. That’s what I kept thinking while the tears were streaming down my face: this is dedication. She earned my tears, and I believe she deserves the Oscar.

    As for the rest of the film, I disagree with Chuck–it did not fall short. The way so much of the movie was shot in close-up combined with the live shooting technique and the long cuts provided for me the perfect formula for taking the emotion of a live stage performance and transferring them to the silver screen. (Yes, Crowe & Seyfried may not have the voices required for connecting their characters with their audience–but I’ve never connected with their characters in any interpretation of Les Mis any way.) So, to me, this film was perhaps the most successful adaptation of a musical to date.

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