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What does it take to make a movie critic cry?

By STEVE PERSALL

My recent dissatisfaction with The Fault in Our Stars makes some people wonder if the fault lay within me.

How heartless, to not fall under the tearjerking spell of doomed yet spunky teenagers in love.

Was I not hugged enough as a child? Left home alone on prom night? Turned down more times than hotel bed linen?

No, no and, ahh, no.

Truth be told, this whole grouchy movie critic thing is a charade. I'm really a softie, tender as they come, my tear ducts like two tiny water balloons just waiting for an honest reason to burst. I like kittens. And I love crying at movies, which I was sincerely hoping to do with The Fault in Our Stars.

See, everything about this movie-watching thing -- professionally, or just for fun -- is purely subjective. This isn't an FCAT test with right and wrong answers. More like an open-ended essay. State your case, back it up and everyone passes. I don't begrudge anyone crying at The Fault in Our Stars or The Expendables III. It could happen. Just not for me.

So, Mr. Sensitivity, what about movies does make you cry? Glad you asked.

I prefer movies treating tragedy with respect, and audiences with the same. Movies with characters reacting as human beings are likely to do when someone dies or a dream fails. Terms of Endearment. The first 10 minutes of Up. Movies making wise or striking metaphors for death: the entirety of A Prairie Home Companion (compounded by the fact that it's director Robert Altman's last film); Roy Scheider's Vegas-style death scene in All That Jazz.

Or, in films tilted toward the fantastic, the final sacrifices of The Iron Giant, and Capt. Kirk or Spock in whichever Khan flick you prefer.

I cry at perfection, which can be reverently heart-swelling as the whole of Schindler's List, or brashly unorthodox as Pulp Fiction. I cry at movies tapping into childhood innocence; the Circle of Life introduction to The Lion King, the purity of Babe ("That'll do, pig. That'll do," gets me every time). The Toy Story trilogy from start to finish.

The expression on Tom Hanks' face as Forrest Gump, seeing the son he never knew existed, the fear in this simple-minded character's question to Jenny: "Is he.. like me?" and his relieved composure when the answer is no. Or the insecurity of Jennifer Lawrence's barely audible "You love me?" after Bradley Cooper already insisted as much at the end of Silver Linings Playbook.

Perhaps it's Julie Christie in Heaven Can Wait, grieving her murdered lover and suddenly realizing he's reincarnated as Warren Beatty's pro quarterback. "Yes, I'd love to have a cup of coffee with you," doesn't read like a sob-inducing line but in the movie's context and with the actors' chemistry, it's an arrow to my heart.

I'm not opposed to unabashed sentimentality, as long as I'm seduced into it, rather than having schmaltz smeared in my face. The right music helps. The Fourth of July fireworks in The Sandlot, with Ray Charles growling America the Beautiful. Kermit singing The Rainbow Connection and Bette Midler crooning Wind Beneath My Wings. Anything with a backbeat in Almost Famous, which holds the extra advantage of paralleling my personal history, same as Cinema Paradiso.

I've had memorable breakdowns. The crushing emotions of Into the Wild were compounded by seeing it at the Telluride Film Festival in the Colorado Rockies, causing me to literally crumple into a friend's arms, the only words I could manage between sobs being: "It's just so beautiful." I don't recall exactly which scene in Alfonso Cuaron's A Little Princess got to me, but that's the only time I've ever retreated mid-show to the men's room, to compose myself. I waited until everyone else left My Dog Skip, hoping nobody would notice my contorted face, eyes reddened and hidden behind sunglasses before the lights came up.

What do these movies have that The Fault in Our Stars doesn't? Probably nothing at all. Crying over a movie simply depends on whatever tugs at our hearts, which can be as singular as fingerprints or felt en masse like millions of readers of John Green's novel and teenagers in love. I'm neither. So what?

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.

What does it take to make a movie critic cry? 06/06/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 2:32pm]

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