This is the advice I have seen just about everywhere about the new Les Misérables film, and it’s good advice indeed. I am far behind the rest of the world on this Mis phenomenon, because I have never seen the hit musical upon which it’s based, or heard the music from it. (Indeed, I should even admit that I am not a great fan of musicals as a genre. I can almost count on one hand the ones I really like — Cabaret, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Singin’ in the Rain, possibly a couple of others.)
The people who created the advance buzz about this film – some Facebook friends of mine were looking forward to it very avidly – turned out to be quite right. It is a very moving story about the nobility of a self-sacrificing character. The notion of art as a morality tale is out of fashion, but maybe the box-office success of this film will show how it can be done both well and profitably — and thus encourage others to try? It is not just the intellect but the emotions that should be engaged when art tries to show us the Good. Dickens knew how to do it, but even he paid the price by being on the receiving end of some critical mockery (most famously, the quip — attributed to Oscar Wilde, but possibly apocryphal — that one must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing). Not all sentimentality works in art, not by a long stretch; but when it does work, it can be fantastically effective.
A couple of uncanny resemblances in the film: The lovely grown-up Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) resembles the grown-up Chelsea Clinton (daughter of the former president); and the darker but equally lovely Éponine (Samantha Barks) looks like Melanie Kirkpatrick (author, most recently, of the acclaimed book Escape from North Korea).