I’m a crier. I’m not proud of it because I’m a guy in the United States, where crying boys are fags and crying men are wimps. I tend to explain away my tears—I was tired, I was hungry, I was sick, I was manipulated, I forgot to take my Celexa. I might only admit it under my breath, whispering, “Oh, yeah. I cried.” Or I might try to find the irony in it—point to my eyes, make an exaggerated frown, and say, “Tears.”
Most of my tears are in response to manipulative “art.” While I did cry in response to such affecting statements as the Vietnam War Memorial, Angels in America and Jarhead, I also melted into a puddle of tears during last chapter of The Lovely Bones, the last episode of Six Feet Under and most of Finding Nemo—gratuitous tear-jerkers, all. I also cried at Titanic—in fact, I walked into the theatre knowing that was going to happen. The year before, I had cried through the last half of Evita. (To my credit, the second time I saw it, I laughed—so there.) While watching the final episodes of both Sex in the City and Felicity, I sobbed like a baby. When Liza Minelli tells Peter Allen that he needs “help” at the end of the schlockiest musical in years, The Boy From Oz, I was as nearly as inconsolable as I was after seeing the death-from-AIDS-cry-for-days musical Falsettos. I’ve also wept while watching commercials for Kleenex, cotton balls and Folger’s Coffee. Most embarrassingly, I cried four separate times during a screening of the bomb Jack Frost, in which Michael Keaton plays a distant father who dies and is resurrected as a snowman to make things right with his son.
Only once did I refuse—I may have been the only person in the theatre who didn’t cry during Life Is Beautiful. The manipulation was too obvious—Roberto Benigni, like most lazy directors, used sweeping minor-chord melodies and blunt-force sentimentality to try to force us to cry. When directors earnmy tears, rather than steal them, I feel justified in crying, and proudly so. When Samwise swims after Frodo at the end The Fellowship of the Ring, I cried. It was a simple depiction of love, friendship and duty, and it was sincere, subtle and beautiful. Similarly, the moment during In Her Shoes when I started crying was also simple.
During the closing credits, one of the seven teenaged girls who sat in front of us in the theatre asked her mother, “Oh. My. God. Did you cry?” Now, it’s possible the girl did not cry at the same scene I did—Lord knows I’m not an expert on teenaged girls, some of whom think Hilary Duff is a genius—but she seemed surprised to have found herself crying, so it must not have been an obvious trigger—as when Nemo finds his father, or Jack lets go of Rose’s hand, for example.
In Her Shoes is a chick flick, but it is not a chick flick strung together by the usual clichés: Motown sing-alongs with hairbrushes, pratfalls in heels, quirky job snafus, impossibly sexy love interests and real-estate porn. While the movie is based on one of the biggest hits of chick lit, In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner, the adaptation does not go the way of Animal Husbandry or Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Instead of adapting to the studio formula (which rarely works), whoever bought the film rights for the book decided to make a good movie. They hired Susannah Grant, who wrote the emotionally rich screenplay for Erin Brokovich. And they hired Curtis Hanson, who is arguably the most versatile director working in the United States. He has directed one of the best thrillers of the last fifteen years (The Hand That Rocks the Cradle), one of the best Cinderella stories (8 Mile), one of the best adaptations of a literary novel (Wonder Boys) and one of the best recent examples of neo-noir (LA Confidential). He relies on his actors; his screenplays; and subtle, naturalistic directorial choices to elicit emotion.
In Her Shoes is about two sisters, Maggie (Cameron Diaz) and Rose (Toni Collette), who are best friends but always in conflict—sometimes hilariously, sometimes seriously. Maggie is slutty, irresponsible and learning-disabled. Rose is a little frumpy, but she’s a high-powered lawyer with a couple of studly suitors. Their mother died when they were very young, and Maggie discovers that their father (Ken Howard, oddly) has kept their grandmother away from them for complex reasons.
After a particularly terrible fight, Maggie disappears to Florida to find her grandmother, wondrously played with restraint by Shirley MacLaine—who actually appears to be wearing less makeup than Diaz. It is when the sisters and their grandmother finally sit down together and look through an old photo album that the scene happens. Maggie is naively telling the story of when her mother took her and Rose on a strange, probably manic (as in manic-depressive) adventure that resulted in a puppy being brought home.
Rose begins to kindly correct some of Maggie’s facts, but then takes over the narration and reconstructs it: She recalls how their parents then had a huge fight about whether or not their mother was fit to care for her children, and how it was two days later that she died in a car accident. Their grandmother does not say that she received a suicide note in the mail, but all three of them know what has just happened, that the truth—the sad, buried truth—has been released. It’s done kindly, lovingly. Hanson uses no music and only simple shots, letting the actresses tell their story instead of forcing the emotion on the audience. It was devastating. I actually gasped before I cried.
Ted Gideonse lives in San Diego and keeps a blog, the Gideonse Bible. Read more columns by Ted Gideonse.