I have no shame when it comes to admitting I have occasionally, though infrequently, wept in a movie theater. In fact, only a few occasions come to mind: the final scenes of In America and Rocket Science, and the scene in Billy Elliot where the father crosses the picket line, which gets me every fucking time. But on the rare occasions where tears spring eternal in a movie theater, I’d much prefer that the movie earned my eye ejaculate. A powerful moment of recognition, something heroic, or something so overwhelmingly inspirational that I can’t help myself are the types of excuses I allow myself to shed a tear in public (even if it is dark).
What I don’t get, really, are cancer movies (or those of a similar vein). I don’t mind being tearjerked if the devastating loss of someone informs the story or is a necessary part of the character arc. But the entire point of a cancer movie is the death; it is to wring out the tears in any way possible. They are designed for the sole purpose of making you sad, and not sad to further a theme: just to be fucking sad. A certain type of filmmaker believes, simply, that if you cry, he or she has succeeded.
That’s bullshit. A commercial director can make certain people cry about long-distance service in less than 30 seconds; it doesn’t take talent to manipulate someone into weeping. Hell, I do it on accident. All the time. It’s cause I’m an asshole. And directors who make people cry simply for the sake of crying: They are assholes, too.
Here are the biggest instances of that assholery: The Five Most Bullshit Manipulative Tearjerkers:
5. My Life: My Life is a mean movie. You know pretty much know at the outset that Michael Keaton’s character is going to kick it cancer style. And it’s like you have to hold this man’s hand while he succumbs — everything in this movie is manipulative, from the videos he makes for his not-yet-born son to the motherfucking circus his family has for him in his backyard like some goddamn Make-a-Wish fantasy for middle-aged adults. But son of a bitch: If Keaton, via his post-mortem video, reading “Green Eggs and Ham” to his one-year old at the end won’t fucking cripple you. It is a cruel fucking trick, and when it works, you will hate yourself. (See, also, My Life Without You for a much better, less manipulative version of this movie).
4. Marley & Me: There’s a whole subset of American people who will readily admit that they have more fondness for their pets than they do for human beings. Marley & Me is their fuck you. Here’s how it works: A newlywed couple adopts a dog in lieu of having a baby; the dog wreaks havoc on their lives; that havoc forms the basis of a newspaper column for the husband; the wife has a child; then a second child; the family moves to a farm; the dog becomes an indispensable part of the family; the dog dies; fuck you. The end.
3. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants: Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants ups the ante over the traditional adult cancer movie. Instead of an attractive grown-up succumbing to cancer, one subplot in Pants focuses on a child who gets cancer and dies somewhat suddenly. Hey! But don’t worry! Thanks to those traveling pants, the dead girl made a friend before she died. And thanks to the girl’s death, Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) learned something very valuable, namely that cute, precocious little girls can die of cancer. Thanks, Ann Brashares!
2. My Girl: There’s like a cancer movie hierarchy, but My Girl is the cancer exception, though in in no way any less manipulative. What’s worse than a kid dying of cancer? The sudden and traumatic death (by bee sting) of a cute child which devastates another, equally cute child (this dynamic can work correctly; it’s called Bridge to Terabithia). What’s the point in My Girl for abruptly killing off Macaulay Culkin and saddling Vada with the guilt (he was looking for her mood ring, after all?) Apparently, to heal the emotional rift between father and daughter. You know what? There are better ways to do that. Much better, less manipulative ways than to provoke an entire theater full of teenager girls into mewling histrionics.
1. Beaches: Watching Beaches with someone who has never seen it before is akin to the experience of listening to a cow being mauled to death. No one who watches this movie can prevent themselves from weeping openly and loudly, and 75 percent of those who fall into the weepy despair that this movie elicits feel utter contempt for the director, Garry Marshall, for inflicting the gratuitous emotional trauma on them and on themselves for giving into it. There is no excuse for this film other than to get you attached to a character so you can watch her die. Her death is doubly exacerbated by the fact that she leaves a daughter behind, so then you get to experience her grief, too. What a fucking joyful experience.