Overlord Confessions: The Movies We Hate To Admit Make Us Weep
There are movies made to make you cry. And not even the steeliest among us (TK), would judge you for tearing up at the end of The Iron Giant. But then there are those movies so hokey, so lame, or so mediocre that we cringe to confess they made us weep.
Here, we your overlords, spill our cinematic purses all over our home theater floors.
I don’t tend to cry at movies, but when I do, it’s at weird shit. (And The Iron Giant. Obviously.) Exhibit A) In The Little Giants, that Rick Moranis movie about a bunch of misfits who form a football team, there’s this one scene where a kid who’s never been able to make a touchdown makes a touchdown because his workaholic father shows up in the endzone. I give zero shits about sports and don’t have a workaholic parent, but EVERY SINGLE TIME I watched this as a kid, this scene got me. He wasn’t even trying to make a touchdown! He was just running towards his father! I caught this part of The Little Giants within the past few years or so, when I was already a full-fledged adult (shut up), and my tear ducts kicked in out of reflex.
I have seen part, but not all, of Disney’s Eight Below, about a sled dog trainer (Paul Walker) who has to leave his dogs behind in the Antarctic because of a snow storm. The reason for that is that, maybe 10 years or so ago, someone else in my family was watching it, and every time I’d wander through the living room for a few minutes, I’d start crying automatically. My dog was seriously ill at the time, and I’m pretty sure I ran into the other room and hugged her, sobbing, for a good half an hour. She was a sweetheart to put up with it. Dogs in peril, man. I can’t handle it. (On a related note, my late brother used to start crying every time he heard the Milo and Otis theme song. My other brother and I abused that fact shamelessly. And the reunion scene in Homeward Bound gets me, but isn’t that true of everyone?)
In 2005 or so, I watched The Matrix Revolutions on a plane. I knew it was a bad movie—I’d seen it before—but at that point movies on a plane were a novelty for me, so whatever, I’ll turn it on. That dumb-ass ending came along where Neo sacrifices himself because Jesus, and I lost my shit out of nowhere. I was so surprised at myself that I just cried more. I read once that you’re more likely to cry at a movie if you watch it on an airplane—Because of air pressure? Oxygen content?—and I have no idea whether that’s true, but it’s the explanation I’m sticking with so I can maintain a modicum of dignity.
I don’t like crying my own tears or feeling my own emotions. I avoid anything people describe as “heart-warming” or “uplifting” or “good”, because those are just code words for “will make you bawl like that time your Dad chased you up the stairs and whipped your ass with a belt before you could stuff the comforter in the way”.
That said, I will succumb to human feelings and cry during movies you might see as normal tear-jerkers: Milk, Lone Survivor, Sharknado. However, there is one movie that no one should cry over, but that reduces me to a snuffling mess anyway: Enchanted.
Yes, the Amy Adams movie where she starts off as a cartoon Disney Princess (but not an official one, because they didn’t want to license Adams’ likeness) and then gets dropped into live action New York by Evil Queen Sarandon. That’s the one. Shut up.
I don’t know why the story of Giselle, Robert, and his daughter Morgan reduces me to a snotty, sobbing mess. Perhaps the connection between Giselle and Morgan is what gets me. It’s so very stupid and predictable, but it gets me in that place where people usually keep their hearts. I’d like to blame hormones, as my daughter was 3 when Enchanted was released, but that doesn’t really explain the years of crying. Does it? NO. SHUT UP. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch some movie with explosions and no substance.
I swear to god, Puchko, this thing that you’re making me do here today, I will revisit it upon you. I don’t like crying, I don’t like acknowledging that I cry, and I absolutely don’t like admitting that I cry at a movie that I find embarrassing. You noticed I didn’t say “cried”? That’s right, I cry every time. In fact, if I think of one particular scene for too long I start crying. And this movie that overwhelms me with emotion? It’s Bridget Jones’s Diary.
Yep, can’t unring that bell.
Not the whole movie, mind you. Most of it, I don’t even really like. Mark says that thing about how he likes Bridget just as she is, and that’s cool. But other than a Baby Gaius Baltar sighting, the movie doesn’t really do much for me. Until Bridget’s parents get back together. You know, Mrs. Dashwood leaves Professor Slughorn for some tacky TV salesman, ending their decades-long marriage and destroying everyone’s faith in love? And when she finally comes to her senses and goes back to her husband, he’s understandably standoffish with her. Until he finally gives up the game and takes her back, acknowledging, “Pam, I just don’t work without you.”
A cynic could read that as a codependent relationship from which neither can escape, or an elderly couple admitting that their practical need for each other outpaced their want of the other a long time ago. But Jim Broadbent’s line is so effortlessly delivered, it breaks my heart a little. TVs don’t work without electricity, (most) cars don’t work without gas, he doesn’t work without her. It’s simple and profound in describing what being truly in love with someone means: that they make you more yourself.
And now I’m crying again. Damn you, Kristy.
I don’t remember the first time I watched the 1992 sports classic The Cutting Edge. I must have been in grade school, but it’s as if every line (“Toe pick!”) has always been inscribed on my very soul. I’ve watched this movie so many times I wore thin the thread on its VHS tape. Then in college I was radiant with glee when I found a DVD copy in the $5 bin of a pharmacy. I do remember the rush of hearing the familiar ’90s funk blazing over the love story of an ice princess figure skater (Moira Kelly in the role that made her my idol) and a coarse hockey has-been (D.B. Sweeney with roguish charms).
This is one of those movies that never gets old for me. Every time I watch it, I fall hard for these flawed athletes turned teammates. And in the end, when they are on the world’s stage of the Olympics, there comes the BIG moment. Will they or won’t they take on the dangerous new trick that’s caused them so much grief and pain, but if done right could win them the gold? Honestly, as I write this, I’m tearing up. She looks at him, and tells him, “We’re doing the Pamchenko.”
They fight about it, because of course they do. And then, they are glorious. They are free and unafraid—and fuck me I’m crying. The music swells, the crowd cheers and here it comes, the impossible Pamchenko Twist. It speaks to the trust they’ve forged, the love they have, the sacrifices they have and will make for each other. By the time he catches her, I’m a mess of tears and sniffles. Every. Damn. Time.
But the most embarrassing crying jag I can’t avoid comes a the end of Dr. Suess’s Horton Hears A Who, the jaunty Jim Carrey version. After we’ve all learned the important lesson of “A person is a person no matter how small,” this passionate pachyderm, his animal friends, and the entirely of Whoville join together to sing a plucky pop cover of REO Speedwagon’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore.” And I can’t. I can’t fight. Even though it’s a beyond corny happy ending and a musical number led by Emo Who Jesse McCartney, I can’t fight this feeling anymore. And my eyes explode with tears as if I’m an anime heroine at the end of a really crushing romance.
Crying during movies isn’t a high bar for me, unfortunately. I’m one of those people who just gets naturally swept away into a film. Shows, songs, hell Verizon commercials where long lost 285 pound Samoan twins separated at birth are reunited can get me mistier than John Boehner opening a new crate of tan accelerator.
But there have been some fairly weird things that twanged my heartstrings. Usually it involves Michael Caine. That fucker. I have no natural defense for him. There is no role he takes, no movie so crappy, that I am immune to his trance.
Case in point: the magisterial Jim Belushi-helmed thunderclap known as Mr. Destiny. It has the kind of marvelous plot that you know was written by a computer. But who appears as the eponymous Mr. Destiny himself? Ringwraith of the blue collar hourglass? That’s right. Michael Caine. He’s standing there, pretending to be a bartender, cleaning glasses at the end of the movie and Belushi’s ‘Larry’ thanks him for showing him how important his life is and Caine’s ‘Mike’ says “you’re welcome, Larry.” And I turn into the storm gutters of Ticonderoga after a bad rain.
I love you so much, Michael Caine. Goddamn you, sir.
I wouldn’t have even watched the movie if I hadn’t been tasked to review it. Honestly, based on the premise, I thought it was a horror movie. It was about a husband (Joel Edgerton) and wife (Jennifer Garner) who are unable to conceive. One night, they decide to write a list of all the attributes they’d want in their dream child, and then they buried the list in the backyard. The next morning, the boy they had wished for appeared, only he had a few leaves growing out of his leg. His name was Timothy Green.
I’d never heard of the Ahmet Zappa book, The Odd Life of Timothy Green. I thought it was going to be a Pet Semetary rip-off. However, when I entered the theater and noticed it was made up almost entirely of children, I realized my mistake.
As each leaf fell off the boy’s leg, it never occurred to me that Timothy might die. It’s a kid’s movie, after all, and no one would be so cruel as to kill off a child in front of a theater full of other kids. But then the last leaf fell off, and Timothy Green disappeared, leaving the parents bereft. Confused. Inconsolable. They’d lost not only their son, but the perfect son.
The children in the theater began to cry. Some were sobbing loudly, unable to hold back. I hadn’t heard anything like it since My Girl in 1991. But I was an adult; I could not let these children see me cry.
On an intellectual level, I understood what was happening. I was being shamelessly manipulated, and I refused to fall for it. But it’s one of those things where, the longer you hold out, the more forceful it becomes when you finally release the pain.
About 30 seconds later, the pain escaped. It didn’t trickle out. It slipped out in a wracking sob, and the noise I heard escape from my mouth I had only heard once before: When I walked in on my mother telling my father that she was leaving him. I could not make it stop. It just came pouring out of me, and try as I might, I could not muffle it. I was a grown man by himself in a crowded theater full of children, crying with the rest of them.
For a few minutes, my reaction was not unlike the reaction of these two boys. It was so much sad.
Full disclosure: when Lost In Translation came out in 2003 I was fully adrift on the sea of adolescence, roughly halfway between the two shores and — as is inherent to that journey — not in possession of a map. Hormones and emotions were like violent waves crashing against the side of the boat, in a way that stretches this metaphor only a little thin, but I think you get the message: I was in a peak receptive state for Sofia Coppola’s bittersweet and melancholy study of loneliness and disaffection. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson embody two lost souls gazing at each other from opposite ends of life’s chasm, perfectly, with nuance and understanding — he regretting a lifetime of possibly bad decisions; she afraid that she may have just made a very big one that may be emblematic of everything to come.
But it’s the ending that gets me. I am not an easy crier, and — despite the aforementioned raging teenage hormones — I never have been. In fact, I can’t think of another work of fiction that does to me what the goddamn ending of goddamn Lost In Translation does. The movie sets up these two lost souls and then lets them find each other in an unexpected, nocturnal place, and for a brief moment you believe that it doesn’t matter if you’re lost, as long as someone else is lost with you — even if that doesn’t necessarily mean a traditional romantic relationship. But then, heartbreakingly, it tears them apart again.
But the kicker is: it’s not the sadness of seeing them torn apart that does it. It’s the spark of hope and connection that their brief time together and Bill Murray’s perfect inaudible goodbye represents that gets me to this day — every.single.time.I.watch.
Oddly, I’m actually fairly emotional when it comes to movies. There are certain beats that strike me at just the right rhythm, that make me flush and tear up and there’s little I can do about it. At this stage in my life, I’m particularly susceptible to stories about parents and children, and in particular, about fathers and sons (true story: I am literally incapable of listening to Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son” without sobbing). So films like Linklater’s superlative Boyhood or Mulligan’s To Kill A Mockingbird routinely crush me. Watching Fishburne and Gooding in Boyz In The Hood after Ricky is killed, wrecks me every goddamn time (“You’re my only son and I’m not gonna lose you to no bullshit, you hear? I love you”).
But this isn’t about those movies, is it? This is about the ones that shame us. So, let’s talk about Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy Returns. STOP LAUGHING. Look, I know it is an objectively dumb movie. I mean, I know that there’s a great deal of B-movie grade fondness for the franchise (well, the first two), which I wholeheartedly support. But you should not be tearing up at The Mummy Returns.
And yet. There’s this moment — the worst possible moment to get emotional, really. Rick (Brendan Frasier) has just defeated a horrendous CGI/Dwayne Johnson hatefuck-scorpion-monster-thing, and the temple they’re in is coming down, and he and his nemesis (Arnold Vosloo)are falling into a chasm filled with demons and Rachel Weisz is there and then…
It’s a split-second moment, where they make eye contact and he knows what she’s about to do, and she knows it too, and man. It just nails me for some reason. Frasier’s scream, Weisz’s look of determination (remember, this is after her essentially being raised from the dead). The whole thing.
Now all of you shut the hell up.
Okay, so, are you ready for this, Bio-Dome. No, it’s fine walk away laughing, I’ll wait.
You back? Okay so yeah. But I have a totally legit reason for this and it’s not my collective sadness at the concept that we as a culture really embraced the film work of Pauly Shore for several years in the 1990s. See, there’s this scene in the middle of Bio-Dome where the bio-dome experiment is supposed to have been terminated, but Pauly and his fellow stoner rebel Stephen Baldwin convince the remaining scientists to lock themselves inside and try to bring the facility back to 100% homeostasis, which is an actual phrase I just typed in reference to a real movie.
During that sequence, the authorities attempt to force them out via psychological warfare in the form of blasting the Men Without Hats hit song “Safety Dance.” Instead of driving the dome crew out, the song causes this to happen:
Okay, so a little backstory. There was a point in the early to mid 2000s when this movie was on HBO what felt like every single day. Around this time I was still living at my parents’ house while trying to make a living as a road comic. My older brother Rob was also temporarily living at home at the time and if he was flipping through channels and saw this movie was on, he’d switch to it for one single reason: when this scene came on he would turn the TV to the highest volume possible and blast it through the house to annoy our mom. He would also do this with the boombox scene at the climax of A Night at the Roxbury but the “Safety Dance” version just seemed a bit more immediately grating and obnoxious. I know you’re probably thinking this happened maybe two or three times. No, we’re talking a regular onslaught of sudden abrupt loud dance music.
Rob died in 2012 in a car accident. And while this remains a sweet funny memory, one of the most purely joyful and silly ones that I have of my brother, I can never see this scene or even hear “Safety Dance” without at least tearing up a little bit. I think that it is one of those cosmic pranks that Rob pulled on me to make me forever feel a deep connection to a movie that is so objectively terrible. It is, however, now an annual tradition for me to queue it up at least once on his birthday and blast it wherever I am. And make sure people know that they can dance if they want to. They can leave their friends behind…
I was in the Army, goddammit, and soldiers don’t cry. Well, except when they watch the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan and hear the pinging of the helmets and like Clarice, think it would all be okay if the pinging would just, please stop.
Overall my crusty exterior holds solid in public, but I’m a closet crier over stupid shit. For me the absolute worst movie sins are those particularly crafted moments where the audience is carefully manipulated to cry, and in most cases those are not the times you’ll catch me…until oh, this last Christmas when I watched a movie I’ve watched every year as part of my holiday tradition. I mean, the mister and I quote John Candy and Steve Martin’s one-liners to each other all the time — “Those aren’t pillows! You’re going the wrong way!” (replete with appropriate hand gestures) — and Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a goddamned comedy. The only wetness that should be happening is from laughing too hard, or pee leakage when Steve Martin does his magical sneering, “fuck”-flinging at the car rental lady. (“Gobble gobble.”)
So it is with deep shame and mortification that I must publicly admit that this year, something horrible happened inside me, and when I saw Del Griffith sitting on that empty bench after Neal Page left him alone at the train station, I felt myself choking up a little, swallowed hard. Neal came back, Del told him his wife had been dead for years, and at that shot where the pair carry Del’s trunk together up to Neal’s house, I looked around the living room hoping no one would see the hot tears inexplicably rolling down my face. That cloying, awful ending where Neal walks in the door and there are stupid, ridiculously long shots of each of his family members staring back at him, with Paul Young whining about Every Time You Go Away; the scene I’ve always despised? I CRIED LIKE A BABY.
The horror. The horror!
Let me be absolutely frank: Safe Haven is an unspeakably bad movie. Predictable, laughable, as bland and white as an off-brand version of a Hostess Snowball and just as likely to make your stomach feel slightly off-kilter. I watched it with my best friend, laughing hysterically all the way through, mocking the script, the performances, the juxtapositionally jarring quality of the filmmaking. And one thing had me laughing hardest: the foreknowledge of the absolutely bonkers ending that was coming our way.
I’m about to spoil Safe Haven for you. If you’re concerned about this, you’re beyond my help.
See, Cobie Smulders is in the movie. She plays the totally character-free best friend of Julianne Hough, our practically lobotomized heroine. And I knew the surprise ending—that Smulders was not merely Hough’s randomly attached best friend, she was, in fact, Robin Scherbatsky: Secret Ghost Wife, the deceased wife of Josh Duhamel’s character. This ending had brought me joy and laughter from the day I first learned of it, long before actually watching the film. When it came time for the big reveal, I was giddy with expectant laughter.
And I truly was hysterical when it happened. But with sobs. But also laughter. I cannot be certain which act was the stronger of the two because they globbed together like some demonic utterance. Laughter. Sobs. We’ll just call it Lobster. It was perhaps the first time I’d experienced this kind of laughter-meets-tears, a laughter-meets-tears-meets-mockery. It was weird. But at least I’d never have to experience it again.
Until days later when I listened to the How Did This Get Made episode about the film, and they played the end audio. And I did it again.
Such is the power of Robin Scherbatsky: Secret Ghost Wife.
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