I love This American Life. This week’s episode is called “Tough Room,” and it has four stories about people who have to face and try to somehow persuade or ingratiate themselves with highly critical and skeptical crowds.
But the last story of the episode is exactly the opposite. It’s about an audience member who is exceptionally susceptible to what is in front of him. GQ’s Brett Martin tells about his experience as someone who never fails to cry at a movie on an airplane, even those that are dumb, cheesy, or just plain awful. And he finds a group of others who experience the exact same phenomenon.
Most movies are selected by viewers for their entertainment value. The one thing everyone in a movie theater has in common is that everyone wants to be there enough to get out of the house and pay for a ticket. But airplane movies are chosen for a captive audience who have nothing in common except that they all want to go to the same city. And the airline’s primary goal is to keep everyone calm. So they tend to be bland films chosen not for artistic quality but for being as unobjectionable as possible. You generally won’t see heart-rending drama or pulse-pounding thrillers on a plane. You’ll see a comedies and romantic comedies.
And that is why it is fascinating to hear Martin talk about how he cried in “Sweet Home Alabama.” All four times he saw it. It isn’t that he’s a big softie. He doesn’t cry in the circumstances most people do. And he isn’t afraid of flying. There’s just something about being on a plane. He talks to other people who are coping with this newly characterized plane movie crying syndrome, and, because I see so many middle-range movies, I found the list of films that sparked their tears and sometimes sobs very funny.