This brief review of Les Misérables is provided by a completely novice movie reviewer, but a Les Mis lover and a parent. I had a tough time deciding if the movie was appropriate for my 9-year-old, and I imagine there are others out there wondering the same thing.
I’ll start by admitting I’m a Les Mis junkie. I saw the musical on my seventeenth birthday in Chicago, and I’ve known all the lyrics by heart since. I’ve caught the touring Broadway show a couple time, and I wasn’t going to miss this celebrity studded tour de force for anything.
A quick movie summary (provided by the official Les Miserables Film website):
Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, Les Misérables tells an enthralling story of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption—a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit. Hugh Jackman plays ex-prisoner Jean Valjean, hunted for decades by the ruthless policeman Javert (Russell Crowe) after he breaks parole. When Valjean agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s (Anne Hathaway) young daughter, Cosette, their lives change forever.
Initially, I planned on taking my 9-year-old son and husband to keep me company. I’ve been listening to the fabulous “Dream Cast” 10th Anniversary and 25th Anniversary concerts for weeks. I didn’t hear anything in there too offensive, and after introducing my son to musical theater last Spring with the amazing touring Lion King production, I thought it was time to broaden his horizons. Let him see just how hard life could be for those less fortunate, expose him to some poverty, some strife, some fighting for what is good and honest and true in this world. You know, let him appreciate how far society, at least here in the American suburbs, has come and just how darn lucky he is. Let him be moved by the music.
I had a hard time finding any actual parent’s reviews of the movie, and those few I did said it was appropriate for 15-and-up. But it’s PG-13? My kid watched his first PG-13 movie years ago (NOT my idea) and he is allowed to watch certain movies (usually involving superheroes, hobbits, or sinking ships) on a case by case basis. How rough could a movie musical really be?
The running theme implied Les Mis showed as much sex as a PG-13 movie allowed. Since that is the one thing I absolutely shelter him from, I decided to see the movie before I ended up having an exceptionally awkward conversation about the birds and the bees on the drive home.
I’m glad I did.
Les Miserables earned its PG-13 rating, and this parent thinks it should stick. Here’s why:
Prostitutes. They play up the whole “Lovely Ladies” scene, making it gritty and rough, causing the original Broadway version to look clean and Disneyfied. No saucy singing ladies of the night—these are gutter whores—there’s not much doubt what these raunchy, miserable women are selling and the hell their lives have turned into. Poor Fantine (the amazing Anne Hathaway) is abused, groped, and molested before she allows a man to throw up her skirt and have her way with him for a few coins. No nudity, but far too explicit for kids.
Tons of bawdy humor, sexual innuendo kids/tweens may or may not understand, and cleavage shoved up high and spilling from corsets.
And a man dressed as Santa gets it on with a prostitute. No nudity, but she’s on top of him and thrusting. (I can only imagine the gasp from my kid—don’t know if “they’re just wrestling” would explain it away.)
Some swearing, usually sung. Not enough to alarm me, but my Mother-in-Law would probably faint. My kid could tolerate it (as he knows not to repeat it).
Again, some “vulgar” and bawdy humor the kids probably wouldn’t get. (At least I hope.)
Drug and Alcohol Use:
It IS France. They drink wine. A lot of it. And of course, the perfectly cast Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen portray the Thénardiers, scoundrels who keep their patrons sloppy drunk so they can fleece them for every sou or two.
Prison is bad. Prisoners are treated harshly.
Various people are slapped and beaten.
Lots of guns, swords, and knives.
A woman’s teeth are ripped out (for money).
Women (mostly prostitutes) are handled roughly by men.
During the battle scene, many men and women (some we are rooting for) are shot and killed. More realistic than stylized (as in, say, comic book flicks). Not super graphic, but they bleed. Later, blood flows through the gutters and women must scrub it from the cobblestones.
**SPOILER** A child is shot and killed. (Much of the audience cried.)
**SPOILER** A man commits suicide (not graphic or violent, though may be disturbing).
Several characters we come to care about die. Yes, this happens in Disney movies, so I can’t say it’s inappropriate, but the whole audience clutched tissues and sniffled. Or flat out bawled.
If you made it all the way down here, I’m surprised you didn’t stop after the first mention of “prostitute.” They are hard to explain away to kids. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVED this movie. It should be nominated for Best Picture. I already bought the soundtrack. Hugh Jackman shines as Jean Valjean and Anne Hathaway…phenomenal. Perfect. I dare anyone not to tear up during her amazing “I Dreamed a Dream.”
Drag your husbands and a box of tissues to this film, but leave the kids under 13 at home.
Once this comes out on DVD I will probably let my kid watch parts of it, so long as I can edit out some content I’m just not ready to explain. When he’s a teen, he’ll be forced to watch it. Maybe even learn the songs.
And next time I watch it, I’ll remember to wear my 20-year-old T shirt, as well.