A Hierarchy of Crying at the Movies

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This afternoon, Gawker's Rich Juzwiak and Caity Weaver asked whether it is or is not insane to cry at The Best Man Holiday, the romantic comedy/ostensible weepie opening wide this weekend. There are certainly better and worse ways for a film to coax its audience into tears. We're ranking them from most to least embarrassing. These may or may not all be culled from this writer's personal experience. (...They are.)

Most Embarrassing

My Sister's KeeperThings got critical in a certain Brooklyn living room one Sunday morning during an HBO viewing of Nick Cassavetes's film, wherein Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric raise a donor baby (Abigail Breslin) in order to help save their other daughter (Sofia Vassilieva). Cancer tears are a dirty trick; kids with cancer even dirtier; and kids with cancer who have a special bond with their siblings are dirtiest still. You may have yanked those tears, Cameron Diaz movie, but you did not earn them the right way.

The RoseBette Midler as a thin gloss on Janis Joplin is a complete mess of a character, and honestly, the tragically addled junkie musician is not normally a trope that should earn proud tears. But man, when she sings through her broken heart on that stage? And then "The Rose" plays over the credits? So, okay, not proud, but effective.

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Not Overly Proud, But Understandable

Terms of Endearment: Cancer tears, sure, but the cancer tears of Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger are a bit more valuable. Certainly, they were to Oscar voters in 1983.

The Family StoneDid not expect this one. Family comedy about a super-liberal clan being all mean to Sarah Jessica Parker at the holidays? Solid premise for a romantic comedy. Certainly there will be nothing to cry ab-- what's that, Diane Keaton? Don't tell anybody what's back? God damn it, cancer. By the time this one was done, and Keaton's matriarch shows Rachel McAdams the photo of when she was pregnant with her and says, "That's me and you, kid"? How embarrassing for that one person sitting alone in the theater with his holiday shopping bags and the audible sobs!

Cloud Atlas: Oh yes. Most audiences were too busy trying to piece together the multiple timelines -- or cringing at some of the more regrettable makeup and accent decisions -- to shed much in the way of tears at the Wachowskis/Tom Tykwer behemoth. But it's the Ben Whishaw/James D'Arcy story -- lovers torn apart by circumstance and shame -- that started yanking at eyelashes by the end.

Couldn't Be Helped, Can't Be Blamed

About Time: This one's a recent experience, sitting in the middle of a crowded festival screening and white-knuckling it so that no one can detect the sobbing at Domhnall Gleeson and Bill Nighy sharing father-son time, all the while knowing it will be the last time. Richard Curtis is an expert at this kind of thing, and he manages to draw character warm and honest enough that you don't feel mugged after you're made to cry over them.

Never Let Me Go: Okay, not gonna feel bad about this one. Mark Romanek's adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel does a decent job of earning its emotional impact. By the time we get to Kathy, who has given all of herself, only to see her great loves Ruth and Tommy go away, and now she's resigned to beginning her own humble exit, feels are being felt, but I'm not mad at anyone about it.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.