I first saw The Greatest at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009. I remember squirming in my seat and rolling my eyes at what I felt was the phoniness of the Very Sad Story, about a family dealing with the death of their teenage son in a car accident. I remember I was especially impatient with the histrionics of the mother, played by Susan Sarandon — a made-for-the-movies character who, in her all-consuming grief, becomes so fiercely obsessed with determining the details of the accident that she shuts out her husband and her hurting younger son and keeps a vigil by the hospital bedside of the comatose criminal who was the last to see the boy alive. I also remember that, on my way out of the screening, I turned to a fellow critic for commiseration about over-the-top hooey, only to see that my colleague, a middle-aged man, was red-eyed from weeping, and could barely speak, so torn up was he by his movie experience. And I felt embarrassed to have intruded on his privacy.
When I watched The Greatest again fourteen months later to review it this week, my tear ducts were no more responsive than they were the first time. Yet I’m not ashamed to give you a list of all sorts of hit-or-miss movies that have left me blubbering while, to the right and left of me, the eyes of neighbors stayed dry: Yentl. Nell. Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself. The Last Song. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Yep, I’m a dork.
Aside from the fact that Susan Sarandon has turned the role of the Mourning Mom into a specialty ripe for parody (she previously survived dead children in Moonlight Mile, Little Women, and In the Valley of Elah), I’ve got no grand theories as to why one movie opens up my waterworks and another leaves me unmoved and feeling hard-hearted. All I know is that I carry a hanky with me to every movie, because there’s nothing better than a sob in the dark. And there’s nothing lonelier than remaining dry-eyed at a movie that all but sticks onions in your face, begging for a wet reaction.
I’ve shared, now you: Which movies have made you bawl? And which have made you go, meh?