Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 06/14/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
As I sat watching The Fault in Our Stars, in a state of quiet, constant sniffling that occasionally gave way to gusts of outright weeping, I had to ask myself: Why do we go to the movies to cry?
Of course, most of the time we don't go to the movies to cry. Judging by box-office stats, we go for uncomplicated entertainment. We don't go to watch bad things happen to good people, which we can see easily enough in real life. We're looking for Hollywood endings, as we call them, where everything wraps up nicely, neatly and happily. Very happily.
But running against this feel-good tide is a stored-up need for sad movies, a down-deep longing that occasionally breaks out into a massive, My-Heart-Will-Go-On mainstream hit.
Every generation, it seems, needs a classic weepie. (As used here, the term means a drama with a sad ending -- not a bleak ending or a wrenching ending or a what-the-hell-was-that ending. This category does not include documentaries, Cormac McCarthy adaptations, or works by Austrian nihilists. It's about pleasurable sadness rather than draining existential despair.)
Deeply sad and wildly popular, The Fault in Our Stars is an adaptation of a much-adored John Green YA novel. In TFIOS -- as those acronym-loving kids call it -- two young cancer patients, Hazel and Gus (played by Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort), meet at a support group and fall in love, with inevitably weepy results.
TFIOS's perfectly pitched sadness has been highlighted in headlines about the film's opening weekend numbers. "A flood of young, female tears has lifted The Fault in Our Stars to the top of the box office," reported online magazine Vulture.
And it has raised questions for critics. Dana Stevens' review for Slate, another online mag, was comically titled, The Fault In Our Stars Didn't Make Me Cry. Am I a Bad Person?
The movie itself starts off by raising the whole sadness issue. "I believe we have a choice in this world about how to tell sad stories," Hazel says in the opening scene. This is not a story in which "beautiful people learn beautiful lessons," she warns us. "This is the truth. Sorry."
Accordingly, TFIOS tries to meet certain realities head-on. Hazel drags around the oxygen tank that helps her breathe for the duration of the movie, for instance. Her breathing tubes stubbornly stay put. And then there's Gus and Hazel's big romantic moment at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, which is certainly non-standard (though also a bit creepy).
But if TFIOS avoids the soppy sentimentalism of, say, a full-on Nicholas Sparks hankyfest like A Walk To Remember, it is still an exquisitely calibrated crying-delivery machine. With wistful, whispery indie-pop songs and strategic close-ups of the leads' lovely faces, it serves up sad-movie clichés for a demographic that is hyper-aware of sad-movie cliches.
This is one of the sweet paradoxes of sad movies. Knowing how you are being manoeuvred, maybe even manipulated into crying is no defence against tears. I speak here as an indiscriminate movie-cryer, as someone who cries regularly, even during movies I hate.
The triggers of the classic sad movie bypass judgment and taste. They trounce film-school theory. Sad movies seem to link directly to the tear-ducts through the emotive, immersive power of the cinematic medium.
With TFIOS, for example, I felt for the young lovers, I really did. But what really grabbed at my heart was the grief of their parents. Laura Dern plays Hazel's valiant mother, and her wonderfully mobile face is always on the verge of crumpling into sorrow. I immediately developed a Pavlovian response to Dern, basically dissolving into tears whenever she appeared on screen. I cried more than she did.
That's another thing about sad movies. You can actually feel yourself reaching for the sadness.
The classic sad ending is, ultimately, not that sad. It feels fitting. In an odd, tear-drenched way, it feels good. Hazel and Gus might make cynical cracks about the motivational phrases his parents post around the house -- "Without Pain, How Could We Know Joy? -- but TFIOS is undeniably uplifting. Despite its opening declaration, the movie is packed with "beautiful lessons." You feel like all that crying is worth something.
That's one of the reasons crying at the movies is so much better than crying in real life. Sitting in the dark, you can weep for Hazel and Gus.
And then you can walk out into the light, feeling somehow better. TFIOS might be drenched in teenaged tears, but it's not a downer. With a bit of contemporary irony and a whole lot of old-school melodrama, it's this generation's introduction to the paradoxical pleasures of the sad movie.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 14, 2014 D12
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
Make a batch of presents with yummy home baking
'I don't want to die a drunk'
CentreVenture boss got a lot done
The measure of the man
Spinning truth in true-crime drama
It isn't freedom without access to markets
Hole for the holidays
The strange, sad and silly year that was
Fix hole in marriage before someone else crawls through
Many happy returns
Career tips for new mayors... and others
An oasis of sparkling wines
Happy Christmas — war is over
A time to reflect on all our blessings
NDP in tough spot for 2015 election
Ensure emotions can handle play date
Two stand out against all other candidates
A doggone happy reunification
Exit a body blow for Selinger
Talkin' 'bout a revolutionary
Earl Grey squares
#Decolonize2014: Boundary-defying exhibitions by indigenous artists help define art in Winnipeg this year
A mommy not required to stick up for husband
Persian, Somali food in short supply in Winnipeg, so this duo is a great discovery
City, Shindico still at odds over expropriation
Time to deal yourself in, Chevy
Return to Dog River so much fun you could spit
Generosity doesn't solve poverty
Hush-hush bar fight leads to fidelity concerns
A pooch's present
Time to deal yourself in, Chevy
Daughter makes her mom proud
Dad feeling dumb after being caught smoking pot
Tolkiening it to the next level
Brace for return of Bellefeuille, Etcheverry
Scandinavian-style spa steaming up Fort Garry
Eggnog Sandwich Cookies
The buddy system can be complicated thing
First fashion boutique on Waterfront
Chronic condition and obesity inspire local woman to join reality show about bodybuilders