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Brianne Johnson: You're not a 'crier'

By Brianne Johnson, Daily Film Columnist
Published February 5, 2013

Hey, you. Pick a side. Declare your loyalty to one team. Shake off the reassurance of parents, teachers and motivational speakers past because there's no grey area — only black and crisp Kleenex white. You’re a “crier,” or you’re not.

Or maybe you’ve spiraled into a mid-movie crisis, mouthing along to the lines of “Bridget Jones’s Diary” as you dig the Raisinets from your bra like a starved mutt mining the backyard for long-forgotten bones. You’re no crier!

Neither am I. Actually, neither was I.

Since I was a tot, all scraped-knee stoicism, I’ve been “the strong one.” I'm pursed lips and arms folded at funerals, the admirer of wallpaper and framed family photos at the hint of a wet eye.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I’m the tin woman, hobbling down a yellow brick road in search of the organ that will — one day! — buckle my knees with its mushy-gushy, swept-away-or-sobbing feelings. With full confidence, I assure you that my heart is very much intact or, at least, melted into a semi-recognizable lump by multiple Paul Rudd YouTube clips.

But emotion is weakness, said one dark corner of my brain. Resist it. Mask it. Force it down dry as if it were a pill.

Then, it happened: I watched the 2012 adaptation of “Les Miserables,” and my emotional barricade crumbled. I couldn’t hear anyone, not even Russell Crowe, sing the “song of angry men” over my own sniffles. Vive la tissue!

I joke that it’s my French ancestors inciting such a reaction; it’s their spirits that have flocked to my seat. They’ve possessed my body, welling up within me until I erupt like a roman candle, sobbing into coat collars and only slightly lamenting the death of Javert. But I'm not dramatic. I'm not a crier.

There are but few exceptions to the to-cry-or-not-to-cry divide, most of which are films that speak to the collective heart of an audience. They’re guilt-free tearjerkers, like “Toy Story 3,” confronting with grace the abandonment of childhood that every generation must face. All — young and old, criers and “cold jerks” — are welcome to tilt their heads to one side so that tears may cannonball from their cheeks in peace.

But it’s still an exception. You are expected — no, obligated — to cry. Because life and love (and every cliché in the script) are ephemeral.

Sad, pretty much.

You are allowed to cry during “Toy Story 3” (and “The Notebook,” while we’re at it). But if you mopped the spit and snot from your face after Adam Sandler’s I’ve-fallen-and-I-can’t-get-up death in “Click,” you’re on your own. Accept that no one will truly understand your “feels” for the rainsoaked, dead comedian in the hospital gown. Suck it up. Remember: you’re not a crier.

Prepare yourself for the heartless road ahead. At every turn, expect a spectrum of overreactions. Relatives will proclaim it a conspiracy that you aren’t in tears within 15 minutes of “Up.” Friends will gawk as you struggle to clog the leaking faucet (or dam, to be more accurate) that is now your post-“Benjamin Button” face because, whoa, since when do you cry at the movies? You’re not a crier!

Exactly. You’re not a “crier” because “criers” don’t exist. Unless we’re talking about Jon Cryer.

Declaring that you’re a “crier” seems to be like earning a humanity badge. You pin it to your sleeve, wearing it with your heart on full display. But it’s arbitrary. The title is nothing more than an excuse for experiencing emotion without the demand for justification. Imagine it, a life of moviegoing ease:

“Why are you crying?”

“I’m a crier.”

That’s it. Not “Anne Hathaway just ate my heart for breakfast.” Not “the image of dozens of characters, who I’d come to admire and pity throughout the last two hours, uniting in death to sing about freedom, makes me want to roll over and die.”

“Nah, I just have generous tearducts; I’m a crier.”

Artists celebrate the rousing of emotion within audiences; why can’t we embrace it, too? Lumping ourselves into a category of viewers just contributes to the stigma around emotional expression. Teams of “criers” and, well, those other guys, devalue the cinematic experience and deny the complexity of human emotion in dry-eyed audiences.

Sometimes, a film plucks the hearts from its viewers’ chests. Sometimes it doesn’t. But why reduce that experience to a kind of innate label, an excuse of “I’m a crier”?

Hey, you. Don’t pick a side. Wade in the grey, or ignore it altogether. Just don’t forget the tissues.