Saturday, February 9, 2008

Sentiment vs. Sentimentality

Over at The Globe and Mail, I was surprised this morning to find a (sort-of) defence of the tear-jerker - from Rick Groen, of all people, one of many (okay, all) Globe reviewers who is no friend of the chick flick.

It's a little academic, but a really good read nonetheless. Groen tries to parse the difference between sentiment and sentimentality, and the subjectivity of our judgments of the one over the other. He writes:

"On the positive end of the aesthetic spectrum, you have sentiment. Now sentiment is terrific. Sentiment is exquisite. Sentiment is thought pierced by real emotion. By contrast, way off on the spectrum's low-rent side, sentimentality is a whole other bag of cheap tricks. It's tawdry, it's commercial, it's the crocodile tear and the mawkish sob."

In other words: Pianist good, Notebook bad.

But that's just the starting point - an honest description of the view most critics (professional and amateur) probably have of the way things shake out. With some personal examples (who knew Rick Groen would be a sucker for The Way We Were?) and some impressive literary references, he works his way to this generous conclusion:

"A great film, where the sentiment is genuine and earned, liberates the emotions, and the experience is transcendent. A sentimental movie does none of that. However, it may have moments that draw you in, that don't so much free your emotions as briefly encircle them, wringing out a tear or a smile or a burst of pride or a bout of anxiety. Even if the picture itself often feels false, those moments do not, and it's okay to treasure them — that's personal, that's your own affair to remember."

Thanks, Rick Groen. I'll enjoy my next good movie crying session all that much more, now.

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