New York Post
Last Updated: 5:32 AM, October 2, 2011
Posted: 9:56 PM, October 1, 2011
In 2009, Kim Bard, a psychologist at the Centre of the Study of Emotion at Englandâ€™s University of Portsmouth, identified the 10 movies that are most likely to make audiences cry. The top tearjerker on the list: Bette Midlerâ€™s â€œBeaches.â€ No. 2, â€œThe Color Purple.â€
Other movies that made the tissue grade were 1983â€™s â€œTerms of Endearment,â€ the RenÃ©e Zellweger cancer drama â€œOne True Thing,â€ the Richard Gere trashy-romance-novel-come-to-life â€œNights in Rodantheâ€ and â€œP.S. I Love You,â€ a film about a dead husband leaving his wife letters. Or something.
Notice anything that all these films have in common? Yep. Very few self-respecting men have seen them, and even fewer would probably cop to being emotionally manipulated by any of them. Certainly not enough to shed actual salty tears.
Which is not to say that men donâ€™t cry. We cry often enough â€” at break-ups, tragedies and, worst of all, when the Knicks hired Isiah Thomas. Itâ€™s just that the truth is, very few films considered tearjerkers are aimed at guys.
Now along comes this weekendâ€™s â€œ50/50,â€ a movie about a young professional (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who gets cancer, and it seems like the filmmakers might have just released into the wild that rarest of Hollywood beasts, a tearjerker that doesnâ€™t feel like a tearjerker. And one thatâ€™s aimed at men.
In her research into weepy films, Bard identified four triggers that get the tear ducts pumping: how often the characters cry on-screen (at least 15 times is ideal), the overall sadness of the movie, the underlying positive message of the film and a minimum of truly happy moments experienced by the characters.
Using this formula, you are likely to arrive at a sappy chick flick like â€œBeaches.â€ But â€œ50/50â€ is no chick flick. Instead of deploying extended scenes of its characters weeping or other standard heart-tuggers, it tells a reasonably matter-of-fact story, low on melodrama and high on comedy, about a young manâ€™s potentially terminal diagnosis and how those around him struggle to deal with it, including his jokey best buddy (Seth Rogen), his self-absorbed girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) and his doting mother (Anjelica Huston).
Itâ€™s alternately sad, funny and shocking. Kind of like real life. And the movieâ€™s realism is easily explained. The writer, Will Reiser, is a cancer survivor who had a tumor removed from his spine a few years ago. He incorporated much of his own experience into the script.
â€œThe whole experience was so bizarre,â€ Reiser says. â€œHumor was the thing that saved me through it all. I wanted to share that. I think itâ€™s OK for us to laugh at illness and how absurd it is, and itâ€™s also OK to cry.â€
But is it really OK to cry?
â€œIf I had a dollar for every guy who took me aside and said, â€˜Iâ€™d never admit this to anyone except you, but every time I see your movie it makes me weep,â€™ Iâ€™d be a very rich man,â€ says David Anspaugh, director of what is considered by many to be among the greatest male-centric weepies of all time, the football underdog flick â€œRudy.â€
Movie studios also seem to be wary of tears. The marketing for â€œ50/50â€ has positioned it like a raunchy Judd Apatow comedy, focusing on Seth Rogenâ€™s wisecracks while shying away from the heavier moments. The sleight of hand makes sense considering Hollywoodâ€™s traditional target audience is young males 15-25, a group not known for being in touch with their feelings.
But selling a tearjerker to men may require more than just a marketing fake-out. It often requires a different kind of movie than the weepies traditionally aimed at women.
â€œYouâ€™d have to be really brave to do â€˜Beachesâ€™ for men. People are too hip and cynical, so you have to disguise it in a way,â€ says Tim McCanlies, writer of â€œThe Iron Giantâ€ and writer-director of â€œSecondhand Lions,â€ two movies often cited for coaxing an awkward cry from men. One successful way to disguise a movieâ€™s gooey emotional center (besides using comedy like â€œ50/50â€) is to make the story about children, a tactic used effectively in â€œStand By Meâ€ and others.
â€œFor some reason, both â€˜Secondhand Lionsâ€™ and â€˜The Iron Giantâ€™ worked because they had younger protagonists. In a way, you couldnâ€™t do those movies if they were about adults,â€ McCanlies says. â€œWhen adults see movies with young people in them â€” especially period movies â€” we can throw off this cynical adult armor and remember when we were innocent and everything was new and fresh.â€
Or you could just make a movie about sports. Among the most famous male tearjerkers, a disproportionate number involve athletes, such as â€œField of Dreamsâ€, â€œBrianâ€™s Songâ€ and â€œThe Champâ€, a movie so sad itâ€™s actually used by scientists in experiments to make people cry.
Anspaugh doesnâ€™t think men are such cavemen that they only feel comfortable crying when sports are involved.
â€œI like to think that weâ€™ve evolved a little more,â€ he says. â€œI know from my own experience with male friends, I think theyâ€™re more comfortable showing their emotions than they were 20 years ago.â€
And in the end, itâ€™s not really the game bits that get viewers emotional. Itâ€™s the more human elements of a story. Anspaugh, who made another one of those classic itâ€™s-about-sports-but-not-really-about-sports movies â€” â€œHoosiersâ€ â€” learned that firsthand.
â€œ â€˜Hoosiersâ€™ had been out about a month and I got a phone call anonymously out of the blue,â€ Anspaugh recalls. â€œA guy said, â€˜Iâ€™m not gonna tell you my name. Iâ€™m not gonna tell you how I got your number. I just want to tell you that I took my daughters to see â€˜Hoosiersâ€™ last week. I was born in New York, and I practice law in California. Iâ€™ve never been to the Midwest, but I cried throughout the movie. The story was great, but thatâ€™s not why I wept. I wept because Iâ€™d never know what life was like in that part of the country and more so because my daughters will never know. And I wept for them.â€
Bummer. Anyone up for something starring Vin Diesel?