Exercising my tear ducts, one sad movie at a time

It’s no secret that The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is one of my favorite books. Like, of all time. (And that’s saying something, because I read a lot of books.) It is a work that defies its genre in all the best ways possible: the silly crushes and superficial gossip that most writers seem to think makes up 99% of high school steps aside for a beautiful, honest, heartrending story of life, death, and love. Hazel and Augustus are two of the most fleshed-out characters (let alone teenagers) that I have ever read. Their story is a joy and a privilege to read, and their love is more real than anything else you will ever find on the Young Adult shelf (or on any shelf, really).

You can imagine my excitement/apprehension, then, when I found out that they were making it into a feature film. Movies almost NEVER do a book justice; and I mean, how can they? There is just something about the way you picture the characters and plot in your head based upon the words and dialogue you pull from a book. It’s a feat that not even Hollywood can replicate—special effects, 3-D, digital surround sound and all.

But there was something much bigger that worried me. You see, I cried, blubbered, and broke down in complete sobs on multiple occasions while reading the book. In fact, I had to stop in some parts just to get up and get more Kleenex. If reading the book did that to me, I didn’t even want to know what watching it play out on the big screen would do.

So, in order to prepare myself for Tear-Fest 2014, I planned to fully exercise my tear ducts. You know, kind of like how professional eaters gorge themselves on a bajillion hot dogs and extra-large pizzas before an eating competition? I physically prepared my body for Niagra Falls by watching the saddest movies in the history of ever. And because it’s now December, and most holiday movies are super ridiculously light and happy (and basically the only thing playing on every channel ever), sometimes you just need a break from the jolliness and to have a good ‘ol cry fest. I’m an equal opportunity weeper, but here are just a few of the best of the sad in case you need to exercise your tear ducts, too.


Rudy’s effect on me is Pavlovian, and the score alone can bring forth the waterworks. The ultimate underdog story of the last 25 years, Rudy stars Sean Astin as Rudy, a diminutive good guy who’s told by everyone, including his own family, to forget his lifelong dream: playing football for Notre Dame. (He’s five-foot-nothing, a hundred-and-nothing, after all.) Long story short (pun), everyone is wrong, and thanks to a bunch of twists of fate, Rudy finally reaches his goal during the final game of his senior year. Just typing this is making me tear up. His dad is so proud. Look at his brother. “Who’s the wild man now?!”


To be honest, I haven’t watched the movie in years because I’m afraid of the waterworks that will flow when Jena Malone rejects cool-photographer-stepmom (Julia Roberts) in favor of dying-of-cancer-real-mom (Susan Sarandon). Released in 1998, this movie was prime Julia and Susan years, when sentimentality ruled and Ed Harris was hunky. But when the kids have to say goodbye to Susan’s character, and when she finally accepts/ forgives Julia’s character? I just can’t.

The Land Before Time

As a child, my cinematic intake revolved almost entirely around The Land Before Time series. While all 12 sequels are beautiful and necessary chapters of the history of dinosaurs, nothing strums my heartstrings quite like the original. The movie tees you up with the birth of Littlefoot—the sole offspring of a diminishing herd of “Longnecks”—  scene that will have you squirming with all the cute feelings. Then the “Sharptooth” comes in and ruins everything. As Littlefoot’s mom lies on the ground in the pouring rain, and tells her son with her dying breath, “I’ll be with you, even if you can’t see me,” all happiness in life ceases to exist. Between the five young protagonists’ ability to bridge the castes of their ancestors, Diana Ross’ “If We Hold On Together,” and the magical BFF hilltop embrace at the end, this movie will always be on my crying marathon watch list.

P.S. I Love You

P.S I Love You has another movie summary that may make you tear up without you even seeing the film. Holly Kennedy is beautiful, smart, and married to the love of her life: a passionate, funny, and impetuous Irishman named Gerry. So when Gerry dies from a tragic illness, Holly is devastated. However, before he died, Gerry wrote Holly a series of letters to help guide her not only through her grief, but in rediscovering herself. What could possibly be more tear-jerking than having the handsome Gerard Butler die in the beginning of a movie and then super creatively want his wife to be happy and find love again? I’m tearing up already just remembering it!


You sit down to watch an uplifting animated little Pixar gem, and no later than the opening credits you’re bawling. The introductory montage of bright-eyed Carl and his adventurous wife, Ellie, as they go from painting their first mailbox to wrinkled, grey, and saying goodbye to each other in a hospital room—with their dreams of adventure never being realized—is simply devastating. If you don’t shed a tear for the pair who never got to put their penny jar to good use with a visit to Paradise Falls, you’re not human.

Marley and Me

Anyone who has ever gone through their lives with a pet they truly love and then lost would relate to this film. It’s amazing how our lives outside of our pets are brought into their lives: they see sadness in us (especially dogs), happiness, and everything in between, and they stay there until the end. It’s truly unbelievable. I have a yellow lab named Thunder who I love more than anything, and watching this movie made me appreciate the time I get to spend with him even more. The first time I read the book that the movie was based on, I called my mom, crying uncontrollably. She thought something serious had happened and when I told her it what it was, she laughed. (That is, until she saw the movie. All of the tears.)

Field of Dreams

For me, the waterworks usually start during Terence Mann’s speech—there’s something perfect about the combination of the gentle words and the lovely way James Earl Jones says them. But I really lose it at the very end, when Ray meets that young man who he would know all those difficult years later. There’s a reason why so many men have such a soft spot for Field of Dreams: the non-demonstrative father/son relationship is a near-universal truth, and the idea of that one last catch is as corny as it is true. Plus, that little crack in Kevin Costner’s voice when he poses the idea, “Hey dad, wanna have a catch?”

The Green Mile

I first saw this movie when I was 17, and I completely fell in love with it. In addition to its valuable message about the death penalty, it really got the emotions going. I cried when Del bonded with his mouse Mr. Jingles; I sobbed when I found out John Coffey was innocent; and every electric chair scene slayed me. Unfortunately, I cried so much that I’ll absolutely never see The Green Mile again.

The Lion King

“Dad? Dad, come on, you gotta get up!” This one had me almost choking up as I watched the two minute clip in order to quote that properly. I’m pretty sure I cried for a week when I was eight and saw this originally, but it doesn’t really get any less tragic as you get older.

Forever a cheesehead from Wisconsin, Wendi Hansen is frequently seen with her nose in a book, her hand in the cookie jar, and her head in the clouds. She’s never met a pint of ice cream she hasn’t liked/demolished and is forever inspired by her spirit animal, Amy Poehler. She writes about all things hilariously random on her blog and is known to have daily conversations with Tony the Tiger on the tweet machine. Check her out here: @WendiLooHoo3.

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