Originally created 07/06/97

Arts notebook: Every movie is 'The Crying Game'



Jack Lemmon-Walter Matthau comedy Grumpy Old Men was mostly noted for its ice-fishing scenes and a hilariously obscene post-credit sequence.

I remember it for something else.

There was this scene toward the end in which Mr. Lemmon and Mr. Matthau had been fighting, and parted, apparently never to speak to each other again. Then Mr. Lemmon had a heart attack or something. Mr. Matthau put aside his grumpiness and hauled his jowls over to the hospital to be with his lifelong friend.

It made me cry.

Go ahead, laugh if you want to. You won't be the first. That honor goes to my date.

"Look at you," she said, smirking. "You're crying at Grumpy Old Men. You loser."

You would think a person could get emotional about such a moment and not get mocked for it.

Well, let me tell you, it's not that way.

The problem was not that I was crying at a movie - everyone with tear ducts and enough spare change for a movie ticket has cried at a movie - the problem was that I cried at the wrong movie. I cried at a movie that made only a token, hackneyed effort to touch at the heartstrings. It's like the director reached out and said, "OK, here, pluck, pluck, whatever," then went back to the comedy.

Leaving me with dewy cheeks, and a laughing woman beside me.

Yes, I am one of those people who leave movies wiping his eyes. I confess. I do it all the time. It hasn't gotten to the point where I cry at life insurance commercials, but it's only a matter of time. I'm an easy mark. The shallower a piece of Hollywood schlock we're talking about, the better. I didn't cry in Schindler's List during the brilliantly filmed sequence when the Nazis cleared out the ghetto - but man, that part in Liar, Liar where the children are taken from their father ... forget about it.

If I ever have kids I'm sure my problem will get worse. Disaster movie moments along the lines of "Mommy, the lava's up to my knees" will begin a flow of another kind.

But really, I shouldn't worry. Even though I am self-conscious enough to pull myself together before I walk out into the lobby, I tend to think crying at movies is a good thing.

I'm no brain expert, but as Eddie Murphy once remarked on Arsenio Hall's now-defunct talk show, if you don't cry every now and then, the tears back up in your head and you become stupid.

If the Murphy principle holds true, and I'm betting it does, the movie theater seems as good a place to let loose as any. You get the comfort of sharing a communal experience with a room full of people, as well as the anonymity provided by a cloak of darkness.

Giving criers privacy is one of the top three reasons movie theaters turn down the lights.

(The issue of using celebrity talk-show interviews as a road map for life will be taken up in the next installment of my autobiography What's Wrong With Being Shallow?)