Tear Jerk (Blog Post)

This is a post about water retention of the ocular kind.

Up and down the country there are reports of people are losing their shit over some Oscar-baiting costume shambles featuring things like “power ballads” belted out by Australians pretending to be French. The plot sounds ridiculous and the execution (so to speak) all rather crass, but nevertheless there is something about this particular film that seems to be genuinely affecting people in that way certain films have a tendency to do from time to time. Tears are being shed. Air is being punched. Audiences are coming together to celebrate the chintzy genius of musical theatre in a pre-meditated national fist-bump. It’s like Mamma Mia all over again.

I’ve not yet seen Tom Hooper’s saccharine extravaganza but have no doubt whatsoever that when I do, not only will my shit be well and truly lost, it will be carefully and lovingly buried at the bottom of a sea of pure feeling. And I know exactly how it’s going to go down. Just a few seconds of that Selina Kyle belting out Susan Boyle’s timeless hit “Dreamy Dream Dream”, and that’s all it will take. Bombs away, my tears will fly, ripping eyeholes asunder in an unforgiving blitzkrieg of elation.

Films make me cry. Some of them make me cry quite a lot. In particular, I’m a sucker for the sentimental. I’m completely fine with this. It’s okay to cry. Anyone who says otherwise is clearly a psychopath. Cold, clinical, maybe even a little dead inside. Or perhaps they’ve just never had the pleasure of watching Dumbo alone in the dark. Their loss. As Fred Willard will attest, there’s nothing quite like a little release in the cinema.

Take, for instance, Slumdog Millionaire. By the conclusion of the film’s Bollywood dance party finale, I was so overcome that I had no real option but to hang back until the very end of the credits and allow myself an opportunity to recover. Seriously, I was all over the shop. All I wanted was to gather my thoughts, wipe my eyes and refill the sandbags of my soul.

I don’t know why Danny Boyle’s picaresque poverty fable induced such ecstatic trauma. I’m not an orphan and I’ve never felt terribly compelled to dive headfirst into a vat of excrement for the sake of an autograph. Perhaps it was the cumulative impact of the hardships suffered by its central characters. Or simply the sheer manipulative force of a narrative that pushes the audience to a place where bawling your eyes out in the company of strangers seems like the most natural thing in the world.

Whatever it was doing, it worked. Later that night, my flat-mate asked me what I thought about the film. “Brilliant,” I said, before devolving into a pathetic, dewy-eyed, quasi-human sludge.

I had a similar experience with another Danny Boyle film, the bone-cracking survival porno 127 Hours. Rarely have I felt so happy to be alive as I did at the end of that damn thing. Boyle’s gruelling portrait of a man driven to the edge of endurance made me want to hotfoot it home, pick up the phone and reassure my Mum that, yes, I’d popped out to the cinema but I was still very much alive and everything was going to be alright. It’s the It’s A Wonderful Life of James Franco-related injury films.

Even War Horse had me reaching for the tissues, despite being so uncool it wears polyester slacks. Sure, the thought of engaging in an Equus-style tryst with Joey the Colt might well be more socially acceptable than publicly bigging up Steven Spielberg these days, but he really is the king of this stuff. The moment when a temporarily blinded Albert sounds the call that reunites him with his steel-hoofed buddy gets me every time. And yes, I’ve seen it more than once.

Crying at the movies is a relatively new phenemenon for me. Certainly as a kid I wouldn’t dare shed even the slightest tear at something as trivial as a film. But something happens when you hit your thirties. Suddenly everything is imbued with meaning. Revisiting E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial as a thirty-three year old nostalgic idiot, for example, is a wholly different experience to watching it as a young, bright-eyed moron. Suddenly, it’s not just a film about childhood. It’s about YOUR childhood, and that changes everything.

One of my favourite films of last year, lest anyone accuse me of shying away from the arthouse juggernauts, was James Bobin’s joyful spin on The Muppets, a film about taking what was great about the past and somehow reinventing it for the present. Needless to say, I was a wreck. It could be one the finest children’s films of recent years, not just because of the jokes and the songs and the all-round glee that explodes out of every scene. The Muppets will endure because when the kids in the audience grow up, get a job, have kids and a mortgage and start dealing with all the other quandaries of modern life, they’ll look back at the time they first saw the incessant puppet film with the fart shoes and singing chickens, and they will cry. 

Crying is good. We know this. And what’s more, so do the producers of Les bloody Miserables. If their all-singing rollercoaster of SHEER EMOTIVE INTENSITY fails to secure its place in tear-jerker history, then it won’t be for lack of trying. Like Beaches, Bambi or The Bridges of Madison County, Hooper’s Gallic epic seems calibrated for maximum possible impact on the waterworks. So what if it’s manipulative and sucralose? There’s little wrong with big, grotesque cinema that stirs the soul.

At least it’s honest.