Shelf Help: Cry It Out

There is no denying that stress is running high these days. While there are plenty of movies and television shows to help you escape the madness and temporarily avoid the crummy state of the world, this week our Shelfers are leaning in to their emotions and letting it all go.

What do you watch when you want a good cry?


Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist/ The Great British Bake Off/ Everwood

My go-to for a cathartic cry are therefore QUITE varied, though usually TV hits me harder (I blame the investment in characters after hours and hours together). Currently, I’ve yet to make it through an episode of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, especially the family stuff with Peter Gallagher’s terminal father.


My absolute preferred tear jerkers are twofold: the simple humanism of The Great British Bake Off, wherein kindly every day Brits bake overly complicated delicacies and then tear up if they win Star Baker (a useless moniker that means nothing) or when their friends are voted off. In American reality TV, most “characters” are snakes who root for their opponents to fail, so the empathy and camaraderie of GBB feels unique and hopeful.

And then there’s Everwood, the Greg Berlanti series that ran for five seasons on The WB from 2002-2006. It’s a treacly family drama, with heartfelt lessons learned, and characters learning to forgive. At its heart is a father/son relationship for the ages, and a near-perfect love story between a boy and a girl that culminates with a perfect scene involving a ferris wheel. So yeah, I cry at literally every episode. I don’t know why…it’s simply perfect tear therapy. – Joe Lipsett


Moulin Rouge

Yes, Moulin Rouge can be a sensory overload full of can-can dancers and a throbbing soundtrack, but there’s something absolutely gut-wrenching about Christian’s (Ewan McGregor) pained sobs at the death of Satine (Nicole Kidman). Just because you know it’s coming, doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking. – Rachel West



Sophie’s Choice

It’s a tough call between Sophie’s Choice and The Bridges of Madison County for the best Streep Weepie. However, in the spirit of tough decisions, I’m going to have to take the little girl. Sophie’s Choice is the ultimate tear-jearker. Meryl Streep won her second Oscar (although it really should have been her fourth) playing Sophie Zawistowski, a Polish Holocaust survivor with a secret. As the men in Sophie’s life, Stingo (Peter MacNicol) and Nathan (Kevin Kline), try to get inside her head and heart, she reveals the mystery of her past. The film offers flashbacks of Sophie’s days in Auschwitz (filmed in a Yugoslavian camp for authenticity at Streep’s insistence) as it finally approaches the “choice” that plagues Sophie with survivor’s guilt.

While the highly GIF-able/meme-friendly “choice scene” guarantees to unleash the waterworks in anyone who watches it, even better is the present-day scene in which Sophie finally voices and confronts the truth. It’s a signature Streep monologue that turns the film on its head. The sense of loss is devastating. Sophie is not only Meryl Streep’s best performance, but the best performance in all of cinema, period. Pop in Sophie’s Choice and put all that toilet paper to good use with a good sloppy cry! – Pat Mullen


Deep Space Nine


My Star Trek show is Deep Space Nine. Like many, I watched reruns of The Original Series and The Next Generation in its first run growing up, but I really feel like I came of age with DS9. Airing during my preteen and teenage years in the 1990s, the show was far darker and more nuanced than its predecessors, tackling themes like colonialism, racism, terrorism, and the cost of war in a serialized format. Ironically though, one of Deep Space Nine‘s best episodes isn’t one of these heady, galaxy-spanning stories, but a little standalone episode called “The Visitor”.
In the episode’s cold open, an engine room accident aboard the USS Defiant apparently claims the life of Captain Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks). His son, Jake (Cirroc Lofton), witnesses his father dematerialize before his eyes and ends up spending the rest of his life obsessing over how he could have prevented his dad’s death. “The Visitor” is an examination of the lengths we might go to bring back a deceased loved one – or in classic science fiction fashion prevent them from dying in the first place. It’s Star Trek, so of course time travel is involved. It turns out the elder Sisko wasn’t actually killed, but was sucked into a temporal inversion that causes him to rematerialize every few decades.

The episode features the incomparable Tony Todd (Candyman) in a fantastic dramatic turn playing an elderly version of Jake Sisko. Jake is given the chance to reunite with his father after a lifetime apart – and with the help of Ben’s now octogenarian former crew and a whole lot of technobabble they are able to prevent the accident from ever happening and save young Jake from a lifetime of grief. It’s heavy stuff for anyone who’s ever lost anyone.

For my own part, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine brought my own father and me closer together in my teenage years. He introduced me to Trek as a toddler and is the reason I’m such a Star Trek geek to this day. Having lost him quite suddenly in 2012 makes DS9’s “The Visitor” a bit of a double whammy for me. – Will Perkins


Inside Out


If you’re in need of a good, cathartic cry, Pixar always delivers. As a parent, Inside Out never fails to hit me in the feels, as it perfectly captures the bittersweet nature of watching kids grow up; you love seeing them hit those key milestones on the journey to adulthood, even as you mourn the fading memories of their toddlerhood. Inside Out gets bonus points for including a double whammy of tears. The critical moment when Riley finally feels Sadness and tearfully opens up to her parents can be counted on to bring a tear to any parent’s eye; but even before that catharsis, one element of this film makes everybody sob: Bing Bong. If the words “who’s your friend who loves to play” don’t move you, you’re officially dead inside. – Jenny Bullough


It may not be the movie that springs to mind when you’re looking for a good cathartic cry; the beautiful animation (Merida’s hair!) and slapstick humour carry us merrily along on the river of the plot until the finale slows things down to showcase the lead’s emotions, and delivers a heartwarming and tear-inducing mother and daughter scene. It’s a credit to the voice work of Kelly Macdonald (Merida) that the climax of this movie is so heartfelt and capable of moving us to tears. You really feel Merida’s sorrow and despair as she confronts the reality that despite all her valiant efforts, she’s failed to break the spell that transformed her mother into a bear. As a mom, I’m biased on this, but I find it incredibly moving every time I rewatch. (And full bonus points to Pixar for creating the first Disney Princess whose core relationship isn’t a romantic one!) – Also, Jenny Bullough