Movies That Make Me Cry (and They’re Not What You Think)

There’s kind of a theme here as you’ll see that I tend to tear up at happy movies much more than sad ones, especially films that involve a dream coming true.

COOL RUNNINGS: Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme! Get on up! It’s BOBSLED TIME! The ultimate underdog story about a group of misfits way out of their league, this is a feel-good movie all the way. As wannabes, we all know what it’s like to try, to fail, and to somehow gather up the courage to try again. After many failures, the Jamaican bobsled team finally begins to prove themselves as real competition, only to have their sled break apart during a critical run. Rather than give up, they hoist their sled up and walk to the finish line. That moment is so much more powerful, more inspiring, than if they had actually won the race. Gets me every time I watch it. And at the end of the film, these words appear:

The Jamaican Bobsled team returned to their native country as heroes.

Four years later, they returned to the Olympics….as equals.

Forget it. I’m tearing up as I write this.

BACK TO THE FUTURE – I know this one seems like an odd choice, but anyone who knows me personally knows where I’m going with this. Seeing this film when I was 10 years old is what inspired me to become a screenwriter.  My Love Letter to Back to the Future on it’s 25th Anniversary

Back to the Future is one of the most perfectly written films of all time, and even as a 10-year-old, I was able to see that. Everything that happens in the film is set up and paid off beautifully. Biff the bully ends up working for George McFly. George confesses his writing dreams to Marty and has a published book at the end. Marty writes his girlfriend’s phone number on the Save the Clock Tower flyer, only to have the clock become vital to his survival when it is struck by lightning.

Sure, it’s mainly sentimentality that causes my reaction to this film, but the effect is still powerful after all these years. The part that gets me is when Marty is playing guitar at The Enchantment Under the Sea Dance and is literally beginning to disappear from existence. Marty’s parents finally kiss on the dance floor, thus setting in motion the events that will lead to his birth. Specifically, I love the moment when the photograph of Marty, his brother, and his sister reappear. Marty sits straight up, flexes his hand, and the music swells. Perfection.  

THAT THING YOU DO! – I absolutely love the part where The Wonders hear their song played on the radio for the first time. They start screaming and hugging and running through the streets of Erie, PA. Anybody who’s ever had a dream fantasizes about that amazing moment in time when it comes true. That Thing You Do! captures that moment beautifully.

HAIRSPRAY  (2007 version ) – John Travolta gets me twice in this one. Travolta plays Edna Turnblad who is married to Wilbur (Christopher Walken). Together, they make an adorable and surprisingly believable couple. When Wilbur bails out his daughter’s friends from jail after they are arrested at a pro-integration rally, Edna says “Knights in Shining armor don’t come any shinier than you, Wilbur.” It’s just such a sweet moment and it makes me tear up. The second time in the film that makes me cry is at the end during the big dance number. Obese Edna is tempted to get up and dance but isn’t sure. Her husband shouts “Do it, now! Or forever wish you had!” And Edna just gets out there in front of all the skinny people and the studio and television audience and just lets loose. It’s just such a joyful moment. As a Wannabe, sometimes I feel like a huge fat girl trying to dance. Sometimes you fail, sometimes you succeed, but as the saying goes, sometimes you have to dance like nobody’s watching.

THE MUPPETS– This is the best movie I’ve seen in the theater in a long time. Funny, heartwarming, and upbeat, it’s a great film for any Wannabe as it follows the Muppets in their quest to save the Muppet studio and to become relevant in a world that’s forgotten them. Hearing the Rainbow Connection, the song that I sing to my son every night, is certainly enough to reduce me to tears, but there’s another scene that gets to me as well. The Muppets perform a telethon to help save their studio, all the while convinced that no one cares about them. Almost out of hope, they leave the theater, only to find thousands and thousands of fans filling the streets, cheering for them. There’s an amazing aeriel shot of all the people and, when combined with the music, it makes for a lovely, triumphant moment. Cue the tears of joy.

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION – After spending decades in prison, Morgan Freeman’s character is on the bus to freedom. After spending much of his life expounding on the dangers of hope, he says “I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope…” Hope. The lifeblood of any Wannabe…

THE HUDSUCKER PROXY: This is a great movie about trying, failing, succeeding, failing again, and not giving up. I love the part near the end where Norville is reading Mr. Hudsucker’s will and he practically whispers the last part “Hudsucker hereby bequeaths….his second chance…” As Wannabes, we always have to believe in that second chance.

AIRPLANE – Just kidding on that one.

What movies and/or books make you cry?

My Love Letter To Back to the Future on its 25th Anniversary

Most people who spend their lives following an artistic dream – be they actors, comics, writers, singers, etc. have one moment in time that they can point to and say – “THERE– right there. That’s when it all started.” A writer may remember reading a classic book as a child that first fired her imagination. An actor may recall the first live play he ever saw that made him realize what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. Seeing Back to the Future when I was 10 years old is my story.

I had absolutely zero interest in seeing the film. I had recently gotten to an age where I was allowed to walk to the movie theater myself and there were only 2, 3 at the most, movies featured there. Much to my irritation, the film was a huge hit. There it sat – week after week – on the marquee. Wouldn’t it ever go away? I didn’t want to see a stupid science fiction film and I was waiting impatiently for a new movie to take its place. One day, out of sheer boredom, I agreed to go see the movie with my sister.

I walked into that movie theater and, roughly two hours later, came out a different person.

It actually took me 8 or 9 years after that to fully realize what it was that I wanted to do with my life, but it definitely began right there in that movie theater. Or rather, the passion that had been in me all along was ignited that day. I am reminded of the Doc’s quote “It’s taken me almost 30 years and my entire family fortune to realize the vision of that day.” After seeing that movie, I had a very strong, indescribable need to do…something. I toyed with it for years. What was it that I wanted to do? I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be an actress. I knew I didn’t want to be a director. It wasn’t until I was in high school when my English teacher started reading my humorous essays aloud (Thanks Ms. Gina Rapisarda, now Gina Fritz!!!), that I realized I had some writing talent and that creative writing was that aching, driving need that was almost physically painful. I realized my all-consuming desire to write then and haven’t stopped since.

Sure, I had been to the movies before that “red-letter” day in the mid-80s. Mostly animated films. Older Disney flicks like Snow White, and I recall seeing The Aristocats and the Santa Clause movie (not the Tim Allen one, the older, fairly terrible Dudley Moore one). But I had never, ever seen anything like Back to the Future. It was one of those incredible, magical, films where all the elements come together to achieve near perfection. It was a popcorn movie in the very best sense of the phrase. I have never been a fan of heavy-handed, preachy, “important” films. I don’t like “feeulms”. I like movies.

Back to the Future is a very tightly written film. No boring parts and everything gets set up and paid off later. From Biff the bully who ends up working for George McFly at the end to little details like Twin Pines Mall becoming Lone Pine Mall after Marty mows down the poor sap with the Delorean; not a moment is wasted. Each role was so perfectly cast that it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing the parts (with apologies to Eric Stolz). No one could ever equal Michael J. Fox’s comedic timing and who else but Christopher Lloyd could ever be the Doc. I confess, however, that it wasn’t until I got older that I caught on to the whole “Jennifer” switch in the sequels…

Until I saw Back to the Future, I never realized that movies could be like this. The rush of adrenaline, the magic, the wonder. You can get lost in the movies. Even for a movie lover like me, it doesn’t happen often. Few movies have that intangible element, that mystical concoction that combines a compelling plot, humor, adventure, and heart that makes you feel like anything is possible.

Over the years, I’ve seen the film many times. I try not to watch it too many times, for fear of it losing its power. I love to listen to the music from the soundtrack, especially while I am out walking. I’m always working on a script, especially when I am walking and listening to music. I feel like I am walking in step with my characters. From the time I wake up in the morning until when I go to bed, I’m lost in the characters and the story that I am creating. The music from Back to the Future can still give me chills. I’m 10 years old again when I hear it. When I got married, we had a movie-themed reception. My first dance with my husband was “Storybook Love” from The Princess Bride. Our second dance was “Earth Angel”. We invited the bridal party to join us on the floor. It was just like being at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance!

On Saturday, I will get to do something that I’ve waited 25 years to do. I will get to see Back to the Future – the movie I never wanted to see in the first place – on the big screen again. This time, I will see it as a screenwriter. Even though I haven’t had my big break yet, I’ve been writing for 16 years now (having had two scripts optioned, one currently under contract with a production company in L.A.). Unlike my advertising writing business, I don’t know that I ever really thought I would make it as a screenwriter. [I thought I had a shot at making a living writing brochures, etc. If you read this blog, you know my business tanked.] Truth be told, I never really thought I would get this far with my screenwriting. It’s very, very rare for anyone to truly be able to make a living as a working screenwriter. It’s no exaggeration to say that my chances of winning the lottery might be a lot better. You never know, though. As we learned in 1985, lightning can strike twice…Regardless of success, I don’t just talk about writing scripts and novels. I WRITE them. That’s what makes me a real writer.

When I see Back to the Future again, I will see it as a person who continues to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a screenwriter. It’s been 16 years and I haven’t given up. I think 10-year-old me would be proud.