Predictable and sappy, The Fault in Our Stars still made me sob
I don’t remember much about my early childhood, but I do remember the first time I cried at a movie. It was 1982. I was seven. My mother and I were living in Laurel, Montana, in a two-bedroom trailer that was pea green on the outside and all manner of orange on the inside. I was by myself in the living room watching Lassie’s Great Adventure on one of those huge TVs that sat on the floor cloaked in wood. At the end of that movie, Lassie and Timmy triumphed! And I found myself experiencing something I would experience many, many times in years to come: hysterical, heaving, snotty, headache-inducing sobs.
I ran to my mom and fell into her arms, attempting to explain myself. She held me for a long time. Every once in a while she’d try to get a look at my face to confirm her suspicions. It was true. She, the consummate movie crier, had grown a movie-crying clone inside of her very own body.
A parenting coup like this can be likened to the discovery that your child loves to read if you yourself gobble up books, or, I suppose, if your child has an obsession with sports and you’re a sports nut. The joy has two parts in equal measure: one, that your child will know the joys and delights you know because you love books or sports or cry at movies, and, two, that you have made your very own partner in crime.
By 1987, my empathy had developed even further. Again, I found myself sobbing in my mother’s arms as the credits rolled after Princess Bride, Mark Knopfler singing “Storybook Story” while I agonized over my unrequited true love: Jason Glass. It was clear to me at 12 – with retainers and zits, not a boob in sight – that I would never have the Wesley and Buttercup kind of love. I had internalized the story. I had made the art about me.
Tonight, my mom and I took my nine-year-old daughter to see The Fault in Our Stars. Don’t judge. She’d been bugging me about it for weeks, assuring me that she was mature enough to handle it, that she understood what the movie was about, that her friend’s mom had let her friend go see it, that there wasn’t any nudity. After careful consideration, including the routine IMDB research, I decided that the worst that could happen is that I’d have a lot of explaining to do.
The basic premise of The Fault in Our Stars (for those of you who haven’t put yourselves through either the book or the movie) is cancer boy meets cancer girl at cancer support group, they fall in love and someone dies. It wasn’t the best movie, but it got the job done. It appears, at first, that it’s the girl that’s going to do the dying before the movie ends, but from the moment I saw that boy’s sweet face I knew he was a goner. Of course they write eulogies to each other. What romantic cancerous teenage couple wouldn’t?
I found it predictable and sappy, but it didn’t matter. I am a movie crier. My emotions have been well trained. I see a movie like this and I make the art about me (even though I’m a little hesitant to call this art). I watch the story through a mother’s eyes. My brain is split in half – one part struggling with the cheesy dialogue and the other part superimposing that very dialogue onto my own experience. In the end, I’m sobbing. So much crying that now, three hours after we walked out of that theater, I have a headache and I’m finding rogue mascara streaks every time I look in the mirror.
My daughter, on the other hand – prideful, stubborn, badass – shed not one tear.