A couple of days ago, I found myself tearing up during a movie preview, which sounds pathetic enough by itself, but it gets worse. I teared up during a preview for a Kevin Costner movie. I suppose I could try to blame my sudden bout of mawkishness on approaching "monthlies," or on the Biscuit’s departure that afternoon for parts north, but by this time, most of the readership has probably divined the truth about my outward thorniness, namely that beneath my grouchy cloak beats a sentimental heart. Yes, ladies and gentlemen – I am a sap. I am not, however, an equal-opportunity sap; I don’t care for weddings, and if the Biscuit ever wooed me in song I would break out in a rash (if I hadn’t already fainted from the shock). But mention Old Yeller in casual conversation and I might have to leave the room. Anyhow. As I sat in the dark, the trailer for the Kevin Costner vehicle For The Love Of The Game rolled, provoking a muffled groan from my fellow moviegoers, who no doubt foresaw yet another megaton Costner bomb getting ready to scorch the earth surrounding the neighborhood cineplex. I don’t disagree with that reaction, but all the same, the beginnings of tears stung my eyes, because God help me, but I love a Kevin Costner baseball movie. I liked Bull Durham a lot, and I’ve watched Field Of Dreams about a hundred times and I’ve read the book, and I can’t even count how many times I’ve turned on the TV to keep me company while I get ready to go out for the evening and flipped past Field Of Dreams playing on one of the local cable stations, and I get sucked back into it despite knowing the whole story backwards and forwards, to the point where I sit raptly on the couch with one leg in a pair of pantyhose and one out and don’t finish putting on the hose until the commercial break, and the same thing happens again during lipstick application and I dash back to the couch at the end of the last car commercial, lipstick in hand, dress not zipped, one lip pink and the other one plain, because I don’t want to miss the part when Moonlight Graham sees the little girl choking and steps over the foul line to help her and in doing so leaves his dream behind forever, or the part when Ray plays catch with the ghost of his dead father, and the movie ends with all the headlights streaming in from the highway towards the field that Ray risked everything to build, and I weep mascara all over my face and have to redo my make-up, and I end up twenty minutes late getting out the door and all puffy from crying to boot.
I love a baseball movie without Kevin Costner, too. I love The Natural. I usually start "leaking" when the kid hands Wonder Boy – a bat made from a tree struck by lightning – to Hobbs, and by the time Hobbs rifles the ball into the lights for the game-winning home run and Pop Fisher’s glasses reflect the sparks of the explosion, I’ve begun openly bawling. The romantic nature of baseball itself attracts softies like me, I imagine, which becomes problematic on summer nights at Yankee Stadium when they show the old footage of Lou Gehrig’s farewell to the fans. Gehrig can barely get through the speech without crying, and the forty thousand grown men on the newsreel have started sobbing into their hats, and up in the cheap seats, tears drip off my chin while the big burly guys sitting behind me say things like "damn, I think I got something in my eye" in choked-up voices, and then they show Pee Wee Reese slinging his arm around Jackie Robinson’s shoulders, and the big burly guys sitting behind me sniffle, and one of them blows his nose quite dramatically into a souvenir pennant. Saps, all of us.
I have a feeling that, if the big burly guys saw Titanic, they didn’t cry, or they did so out of sheer boredom. I have no such excuse, unfortunately. I had zero interest in seeing the film, I balked at watching it when the Biscuit rented it, I made a point of yawning and fake-snoring during the first hour, and by the time the boat sank I had drenched the front of my t-shirt. Yes, I admit it. I cried at the end of Titanic. I will say in my own defense that I couldn’t have cared less about Jack, or Rose, and in fact I prayed silently that Billy Zane would hold both their heads underwater and put me out of my misery, but the Irish mother reading her children to sleep and fighting to keep the panic out of her voice as she waits to drown – well, it just about killed me. Thinking about the poorer passengers trapped belowdecks, while the rich floated to safety in nearly empty lifeboats, saddened me profoundly.
But it doesn’t take that much, usually. Father and son gazing at each other at the end of The Ice Storm did it. So did the last few minutes of Unstrung Heroes, as the Lidzes mourn the death of their wife and mother by watching home movies of her. Pete Postlethwaite in any state of physical decline on-screen sends me fumbling for the Kleenex, viz. In The Name Of The Father and Brassed Off. The latter film, shameless in its manipulations, tells the story of a beleaguered bandleader, Danny, and his brass band in a depressed area of England. Early in the film, the band dicks around and plays "Danny Boy" really sloppily in performance, and Danny berates them; later, after he’s fallen ill and the band has dropped out of the contest that could save it from extinction, the players gather beneath his hospital window and serenade him with a mournful, note-perfect version of "Danny Boy." Danny’s son Phil blows his horn with tears streaming down his face, which dovetailed nicely with the tears streaming down my own face by that time. Obviously, the music on the soundtrack hits me where I live, too.
If the sound editor would give those damn violins a rest, I might have a prayer of getting through touching vignettes without having to towel off. I always dissolve during the last ten minutes of The Shawshank Redemption, and as the score soars up to accompany Red’s monologue on freedom, my ears give my brain a nudge and whisper, "Here comes the minor cord – better give the tear ducts the high sign," and my brain sends a message downstairs to the optic nerve that reads, "Wait for the line Ã«I hope to see my friend and shake his hand’ and then flood the place," and the cells in my tear ducts all run around getting in place, and Red says, "I hope," and then the lead cell throws the doors open, and one cell points the hose while another cell dumps a bunch of salt in and yells, "Get on your horse and ride, nose, ride!" and I snivel like a child as Red walks down the beach and meets Andy. The same thing happened when I watched – you won’t believe this one – Flatliners. It pains me deeply to admit that I wept during a Julia Roberts vehicle (oh, wait – more than one. I cried during Dying Young, too, but I prefer to think of those as tears of frustration, since Julia Roberts got to smooch with Campbell Scott and I didn’t), especially one as over-the-top awful as that one, but Rachel "went under" and had a reunion with her late father, and she said, "Daddy," and burst into tears, and nobody but nobody bursts into tears better than Julia Roberts, and once the entire goddamn Boston Philharmonic got in on the act and started sawing away on the cello strings, I didn’t have a chance in hell of staying dry.
I reserve the true hysteria for animal films. No rousing big-game finale, no moving parent-child moment, no poignant melody can turn me into a hiccuping mess faster than the demise – or triumph, for that matter – of something furry. I can’t even talk about Phar Lap without misting up. Towards the end of the flick, Phar Lap – a famous Australian racehorse – runs a race in which he stumbles coming out of the gate. On the way to setting a speed record at that distance, the horse has to run all the way around the rest of the field, from behind, on muddy track, and he catches them on the backstretch, having run quite a bit farther and faster than they, and as he picks up speed to pass the field, the camera cuts to a shot of his leg, which has blood on it. Phar Lap ran the race on a broken leg, and won it going away. The heart! The heroism! The river of snot rolling down my upper lip! A couple of tears snuck out at the end of Babe, too. "That’ll do, pig," indeed. And don’t get me started on Harry And Tonto. Old man. Orange cat. Cross-country trip. Enough said. (Sniffle.)
I tend to forgive sappy dramas more quickly than I do comedies of equal feebleness. I can deal with maudlin a lot better than I can with limp and unfunny. Besides, my grandmother used to tell me that tears you don’t cry become stones in your heart, and I firmly believe that everyone needs a good cry once in a while. I forget all about that, usually, until I find myself in front of Dominick & Eugene, blubbering away. Embarrassing, sometimes, but cathartic – and why else do we go to the movies?
Now Wing Chun tells me I should go see Iron Giant, and she tells me she bawled at the end, and so did her mom. I'd better bring a bath sheet.