At a recent showing of The Family Stone, the audience streamed out of the theater while a lone couple remained behind in their seats, yoked to one person's grief. They remained as the staff worked around them, a mess too big to clean up among the discarded soda cups and popcorn bags.
Let's get one thing out of the way: I don't like going to the movies that much.
That may seem like an alien thing to say, sort of like saying "I don't like breathing" or "I'm not very fond of having teeth."
But really, it takes a very specific confluence of factors to get me into a movie theater. Going to the movies is like a minefield for control freaks like me: timing, seating logistics, random audience variables, questionable movie quality... the prospect of gambling two hours or more on any given movie is enough to turn me into a Raymond who'd rather just watch Judge Wapner at the appointed time.
One thing I need to start taking into account is a possible Inappropriate Emotional Response. In the case of The Family Stone, my crying started with the pregnant daughter curling up next to the sick mom on the bed, continued through the fraught dinner scene, and rolled on through the credits.
I could blame it on the fact that my mom, like the Stone mom, has had breast cancer. I could blame it on a very fraught holiday week, on many aspects of the movie that resonated with me. But it doesn't really matter when you're choking back tears while everyone else is calmly watching an average Hollywood film. It doesn't matter when you're hobbled by sobs, unable to exit the theater with the rest of the patrons.
I know I'm not alone in terms of seemingly ridiculous emotional responses to movies. A friend just told me about trying to downplay her copious tears during King Kong, which did make me feel better. Still, I hate being caught emotionally unawares -- in public to boot -- by cinema that many would regard as sentimental or melodramatic pabulum.
The first time this ever happened was at a friend's house in eighth grade. A bunch of us watched a VHS copy of the TV movie The Burning Bed, starring Farrah Fawcett as an abused wife who kills her husband. As the lights came on and everyone adjusted their sleeping bags and got up to get water, I sat there crying uncontrollably. "It's so sad," I sobbed. "Hw cld smething like that happn? *gack* *snorf* *choke*" It took me several minutes to calm down.
In this moment, people tend to be sympathetic toward me but understandably distant, as my friend David was when we saw Titanic together and the lights came up to reveal that I was having a virtual breakdown. "Ohh... are you okay?... yeah, it was sad," he said, obviously taken aback. In the end all he could do was politely wait out my fit. I mean, it was just a cheesy movie for chrissake. During the Stone sobfest, my bf delivered gold-medal support -- but I wished he didn't have to.
What's frustrating is, it doesn't happen every time. There are plenty of movies I have sat through with nary a tear, so it's hard to predict when and where a movie-induced fit will occur.
This is why when it comes to potentially upsetting movies, I prefer the DVD format. That way I can have my Inappropriate Emotional Response alone, in the comfort of my own home, with no one to judge. I can lie in a tearstained stupor in front of such surprise catharses as Lovers of the Arctic Circle or Moonlight Mile.
I like to think there others having the same Netflix nights that I am. I like to think that when Glenn Close's character in Fatal Attraction sat depressively clicking her lamp on and off, she wasn't upset about Michael Douglas; it was that she'd just finished watching Fearless.