Tuesday, 2 August 2011

A cheap cry

(A note about my second every day blogging slip-up: The thing about me and promises is even once I've broken them, I keep trying to fulfill them, if that makes any sense. The attempt is as important as its success...)

This weekend, while waiting outside the cinema to see Bridesmaids for a second time, a friend and I got into an interesting discussion about how successful a film or piece of theatre is if it succeeds in making you cry. I've always thought that regardless of how poorly conceived something is as a whole, if it's hit upon a moment that is truthful enough that I'm moved to tears, there is some kind of skill or achievement there, even if only in that scene or moment.

The conversation arose out of a story I told about seeing Wit at Canstage when I was 17, saying, "There literally was not a dry eye in the house."

My friend countered - "The same was true when I went to see The Passion of the Christ, and that movie is terrible. Torture a person, in this case a religious figure, for two hours and you're going to provoke some kind of cheap emotional reaction from the audience. There's nothing skilful about that."

I became adamant - I barely ever cry in films, when reading books, or when watching theatre, but then again, I haven't seen The Passion of the Christ and I certainly don't plan to. We both began to wonder - is there such a thing as "cheap cry", the counterpart to a cheap laugh. He thinks yes - although I'm still hard pressed to think of any. (Maybe I'm just a steely souled woman and nothing can move me to tears!) I understand that many products of pop culture are emotionally manipulative, and I think that knowledge has armoured me against being touched by something, unless it is masterfully manipulative. It's funny that "emotionally manipulative" has become synonymous with bad - perhaps it's just that nobody likes the lack of agency associated with the word "manipulative" - it seems sneaky somehow, as though you've been duped. But a ficitional narrative is a dupe - and regardless of how profound it is, on some level it is trying to manipulate the audience into sharing certain ideologies, hitting upon certain emotions, having them follow an emotional journey that they had nothing to do with plotting - and make them as invested as though every decision had been their own. This is not easy work, and mis-steps are constant. In a way I wonder if we only use the words "emotionally manipulative" when the manipulation has failed - when we can see the strings. Otherwise it was "truthful", "touching", "profound."

It was funny to be having the conversation about the "cheap cry" on our way to a very well reviewed and successful Hollywood Film, because I possibly have the most respect for popcorn entertainment that is able to hide its own inherent clichés and somehow make its genre seem fresh instead of stale, while keeping the genre comforting and light.

Two hours later we all sat side by side watching the film, and somewhere near the end I found myself welling up. I'll be honest. I tried to hide it from my friend. I was worried that it proved his point. But upon further reflection, I think that my reaction showed the film's heart, which is part of why it's been so critically and commercially successful. Yes it was a Judd Appatow film. No what I was crying about was not particularly profound. But still. A fictional story about bridesmaids made me feel something, darn it, and I think that's pretty impressive. My tears don't come cheap.

(Unless you throw something at me.)

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