Starting Christmas Day, Les Misérables will no doubt grip the imaginations and pluck the hearts of moviegoers throughout the nation. Following either genuine or manufactured box office enthusiasm, the ad campaign for the film of the stage musical of the Victor Hugo novel will trumpet its status as “AMERICA’S #1 MOVIE.” You’ll hear exhortations like “DON’T MISS THE EVENT OF A LIFETIME! EVERYONE LOVES LES MIZ!,” and over your average heartland holiday get-togethers, you’ll be subject to hearing raves from otherwise manly men who will boast of how they hate musicals, but boy howdy, how they cried over that movie starring Wolverine and Catwoman.
Now, then, seems like a pertinent time to recall the trenchant observation made by (Philadelphia native) writer Joe Queenan, who remarked in his obscenely hilarious book Red Lobster, White Trash, and The Blue Lagoon:
Indeed, the most appalling thing about attending a performance of Les Miz was not the musical itself but the spectacle of seeing a roomful of middle-Americans get all weepy-eyed about the plight of desperately poor French people and the inequities of a judicial system that would hound a man to his grave for the mere crime of stealing a loaf of bread.
Middle-Americans hate poor people, loathe the French, and are forever electing public officials who make it their life’s work to put the wretched of the earth in the slammer for stealing a loaf of bread.
That said, the tragic events that have recently held sway over our public discourse make it impossible to regard a certain snippet of footage from the commercials—when Jean Valjean clutches Cosette to his side while the voiceover intones “Don’t worry, I’ll keep you safe”—without a feeling of bitter poignancy. Those few seconds have suddenly, by way of awful coincidence, taken on immense significance and serve as a reminder of life’s precious fragility.
May your holidays be blessed with happiness; my Top 10 Movies of the Year comes next.