Tuesday, June 30, 2009

MY SISTER'S KEEPER : EXPERIENCING THE EPIC WEEPIE

The "weepie" has been around, but I don't ever recall a film being so carefully crafted around the deliberate idea of making the audience bawl more so than Nick Cassavettes' My Sister's Keeper. The director's new film is like a symphony of ebbing and flowing set pieces, each one crescendoing into a climax of quietude so the audience can communally wipe each other's cheeks and dab each other's eyes before the next wave. It's quite the experience.

I saw it in a theater that was maybe a third full. There was a peculiar amount of trios that kept coming in. Female trios. Why three, and not two or four? I'm not sure, but my best guess is that three makes the ideal number for a "weepie movie support system". That way, when the huddling and crying begins, nobody gets left out. I sat up front to avoid the chatter (it's been my experience that most in-movie commentary comes from the back), but no seat could separate me from the sniffling, and huffing, and churgling that filled-out the ambiance of the theater. I didn't mind. Like screams or laughter, it's part of the theater experience.

But a thought came to me while I sat there taking in the cancer-stricken imagery from the front and the sobbing from the back: Did many of these audience members come here with the intended purpose of having a good cry? Meaning, the way someone may go to a comedy film for a good laugh or to a horror film to feel tense and frightened, do some fans of weepies look forward to the experience of sob-letting? After all, there is a natural high that follows a good cry much in the way there is with a hearty chuckle or a visceral rush.

Though I've never seen it, I realize that Cassavettes' The Notebook is one of this decade's most celebrated weepies. Now, after seeing My Sister's Keeper, I'm (sort of) anxious to watch The Notebook so as to make comparisons between their craftsmanship. Because, don't kid yourself, My Sister's Keeper isn't a movie. It's a narrated slide show with a soundtrack of strummed ukulele and ballads that have the words "Home" and "You" in the title.

The centerpiece to this slide show is when the terminally ill Kate takes us through her scrapbook of memories and good-bye confessions: (paraphrasing) "To Dad, I'm sorry I took away the love of your life" ... "To Jesse, I'm sorry nobody noticed that you were dyslexic" ... "To Anna, I'm sorry I made them hurt you". From here, we're whisked into a doomed-from-the-beginning flashback sequence about Kate's boyfriend Taylor, a fellow cancer patient who she adored more than anything, and who passes away the night after they have sex for the first time. But the coup de grace, the ten-tissue-clincher, is the beach sequence, 'the Final Days of Kate' where all she wants is a last look at the beach, a last look at her brother and sister feeding the seagulls, a last embrace from her mother's arms... all to the tune of that "Feels Like Home" song (how did a Coldplay track not make it into this movie?!?!).

I refuse to believe that Nick Cassavettes' heart was in the wrong place (after all, he watched his father slowly fade away), I just think he's making movies by the book and not from the gut. I wouldn't even be surprised if My Sister's Keeper was test screened with "cry-o-meters" measuring the level of audible sorrow in the crowd. If somebody makes you laugh, the next time around, he or she will just want you to laugh harder. Similar must've been the dilemma for the man who made The Notebook. So, if success is measured by the amount of tears generated, perhaps Nick Cassavettes has succeeded, but he shouldn't kid himself... he didn't do so by making a movie.

26 comments:

bill r. said...

It's a narrated slide show with a soundtrack of strummed ukulele and ballads that have the words "Home" and "You" in the title...

Very nice, Fox.

I was just wondering, the other day, about how Nick Cassavettes got into this particular line of filmmaking. Of all the people to be the anti-John Cassavettes, how did his son get the gig?

By the way, if I can get off topic for a moment: I was wondering, Fox, as someone who liked Observe and Report, if you've seen Eastbound and Down, and if so, what you thought of it? I watched the first season last night, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Fox said...

Bill-

Actually, I have the first season of Eastbound and Down coming in the mail from Netflix today. I'm very excited to see it.

On Nick Cassavettes, I told my wife the same thing. I said: "Maybe he's rebelling against his father, because John Cassavettes went out of his way to not make these kind of movies."

Of course, my wife, being the kind-hearted person she is, defended Nick.

bill r. said...

Actually, I have the first season of Eastbound and Down coming in the mail from Netflix today. I'm very excited to see it...

Let me know what you think of it (a full post would be great!). It's not without its flaws, but it was funny, and there were quite a few things, apart from the humor, that I admired about it.

I've never seen a Nick Cassavettes movie (and not too many John Cassavettes movies either, to be honest), so I'm not going to judge the guy. Maybe I'd think that Nick's films are good (I doubt it, but it's possible). It's just such an odd family connection.

Fox said...

I've never seen a Nick Cassavettes movie (and not too many John Cassavettes movies either, to be honest), so I'm not going to judge the guy. Maybe I'd think that Nick's films are good (I doubt it, but it's possible). It's just such an odd family connection....

I don't begrudge the guy. As my wife rightly said, he owes nothing to his father's legacy. He's his own man.

I've only seen Alpha Dog and My Sister's Keeper, so I shouldn't fully characterize the guy myself.

Did you ever see The Foot Fist Way?

ryan said...

Alpha Dog is the most unintentionally hilarious movie I've ever seen. The Notebook might be the second most unintentionally hilarious movie I've ever seen. Nick Cassavettes is a top-notch tool.

Fox said...

Ryan-

Remember the Sharon Stone fat suit in Alpha Dog? That is just awesome. I've been trying to find a nice clip of that on the web (I haven't checked in awhile) because it needs to be shared with everyone.

I didn't hate Alpha Dog as much as you did, but I agree that it's not a good movie. I think I just liked Anton Yelchin's performance. I'm kind of obsessed with him. But Emile Hirsch is indeed pretty (unintentionally) hilarious in that movie.

bill r. said...

Did you ever see The Foot Fist Way?...

Yes, and I was underwhelmed. I found it very thin and only sporadically funny. Plus, it was ugly to look at, and outside of Danny McBride, not that well acted. So I've been a bit hesitant about the other stuff from this group, but the praise for Eastbound and Down (especially coming from a friend of mine whose taste I trust more than anyone else who I'd seen praising the show) made me plow ahead, and I'm glad I did.

Fox said...

Yes, and I was underwhelmed. I found it very thin and only sporadically funny. Plus, it was ugly to look at, and outside of Danny McBride, not that well acted....

Aww man.

Well, I do think your criticisms are valid ("very thin" and "ugly to look at"), but I still felt a low-budget charm from it.

In fact, I think both Foot Fist Way and Observe and Report have their share of imperfections, but there's something about both of them that I connect with. Which makes me excited for my Eastbound and Down festival tonight. But it's only 6 episodes?!?! What's up with that?

bill r. said...

I honestly think they're reaching for Ricky Gervais/The Office heights -- and they don't get there, but they that's shooting awfully high -- hence the six episodes. That's my theory, anyway. It's really a good length, to be honest, and it ends at a really good point. Plus, it really feels like a three hour comedy feature -- episodes begin exactly where the previous one left off -- and in this case that's actually a good thing.

Fox said...

Bill-

You know, that's a good point. I was always "bummed" that The Office and Extras seasons ended after six episodes each, but they HAD to. Stretching the substance of those shows out into 32 episodes would have ruined what is special about them.

So, I'm very excited to hear you say that E & D reminded you of that, because I really rarely like television shows. But The Office (the BBC one), and Extras have been two exceptions to that.

bill r. said...

Now, remember, I don't think this show is as good as The Office, but it is very good, and I think Ricky Gervais clearly inspired them. I think they watched his shows, and though, "Man, we should do something like that."

And honestly, there's one bit in the second half of the season, in an epsiode that takes place at a barbecue, that I think is truly inspired. It's not a great, deep moment, and it's maybe a kind of juvenile laugh, but it's a great juvenile laugh, and it's beautifully played by McBride. There's great stuff in this show.

Rick Olson said...

Are we still talking about "Eastbound and Down"? Because if we are, I think Bill's got a point: it certainly lives in the same cringe-worthy space.

Rick Olson said...

As "The Office," I mean.

Rick Olson said...

And by the way, I think that people do come to these movies withe the express purpose to weep.

Pat said...

On coming to a movie with purpose of having a good cry:

Yes, some people do that. I certainly have, on ocassion, sought out a movie I knew would be a sad when I needed a good cry. I even a few selected episodes of "Sex and the City" on DVD that I know I can go to when I'm feeling miserable and need to shed a few tears.

So thanks, Fox, for letting me know where I need to head if I feel the need for a good mulitplex "boo hoo" in the near future.

For what it's worth, I didn't think "The Notebook" was too bad, as calculated weepies go. I've seen much worse.

bill r. said...

So Fox...did you watch Eastbound and Down, or what?

Fox said...

Rick... three comments in under two minutes! Thanks for the padding, my friend! Blogger buddies are the best!

So... I was MEGA-busy at work today and didn't do any blog traveling. Not even on my own. So, let me get a cup of coffee and I will be right back...

Fox said...

I certainly have, on ocassion, sought out a movie I knew would be a sad when I needed a good cry....

Pat-

It's strange that I had never considered that people do that. It seems perfectly logical. The feeling after a cry is pleasurable, so why wouldn't it be something people want?

I guess, for whatever reason, I've just never sought out a movie for that reason. But don't get me wrong, I can be an easy cry. And, though I think it's dreadful, I DID cry in My Sister's Keeper. There's a scene were Kate - after struggling through chemo therapy - is in a prom dress and she says to her father, "Daddy, do I look pretty?". Awww... come on man! That just choked me up.

And though my buddy Ryan didn't like it, my wife also likes The Notebook, and admits to openly weeping when she watches it.

Fox said...

Rick & Bill-

On Eastbound & Down...

OK, I watched the first three episodes last night, and I plan on finishing the other three tonight.

Right now, I'm still on the fence in how I feel about it. I think the comparison to The Office is very apt. Bill, I kept thinking about it after you mentioned it yesterday. Kenny, like David, is an asshole that we slowly build sympathy for. Since I've only seen three episodes, I don't know if that feeling will build or not. I can't tell where the show is going. But I will say that I LOVED the way the third episode ended.

Overall, I don't feel like I can say anything too critical or positive before I've watched that second half. There have been things I liked, and things I didn't, but they really feel like they are hanging in the air right now until I complete the season. Does that make sense?

Anyways... more later. Oh, and is this supposed to be inspired by John Rocker? An Atlanta closing pitcher who speaks loose-lipped bigotry and flames out after a quick rise? Seems pretty much in line with what happened to Rocker.

bill r. said...

Fox, I'd be curious to know what you like and don't like about it so far. Just some general ideas. By the third episode, I was pretty well in the bag for the show, because it was funny, and, more importantly, it was above taking cheap shots at easy targets. When I saw that Kenny's brother and sister-in-law were suburban Christians, I was bracing myself for the kind of typical, bigoted jokes at the expense of those kinds of people that are so ubiquitous these days, and they never came. Those two are among the smartest and nicest people on the show. Which doesn't mean they're not the subject of humor occasionally, but never in a cheap or mean way, and that really surprised and pleased me.

And John Rocker! I've been trying to think of his name since I watched the show. Thanks for taking that off my shoulders.

Anonymous said...

It was extremely interesting for me to read the post. Thanks the author for it. I like such topics and everything connected to them. I would like to read a bit more on that blog soon.

Bella Benedict
escorte girls kiev

Anonymous said...

Sorry for my bad english. I would like to get updated with you new posts as I love to read your blog. Add me to your mailing list if you have any.

Anonymous said...

Cool article you got here. I'd like to read something more about that matter. The only thing this blog needs is a few pictures of any gizmos.

Jeff Stepman
jammer products

Anonymous said...

I would like to read more on this site soon. By the way, pretty good design this blog has, but don’t you think design should be changed from time to time?

Anonymous said...

It was rather interesting for me to read that blog. Thanx for it. I like such themes and everything that is connected to them. I would like to read more on that blog soon.

Gloria Simpson
black escorts london

Anonymous said...

Ridіculous quest there. Whаt occurгed after?
Τaκе сaгe!

Also visit my ѕitе ... bucket trucks
Here is my web site :: bucket truck safety