Whether your tastes run to Old Yeller or Beaches, sometimes you just need to pop in a movie and have a good cry — and that’s okay! There’s something cathartic about watching a two-hour tearjerker, and though you may prefer to let those tears come out in the comfort of your own home, there’s a lot to be said for the communal experience of watching a good-cry movie in the theaters and hearing your seatmates sniffle, too. This summer season has provided more than its fair share of emotional indies, and the latest and potentially greatest is Destin Daniel Cretton’s Short Term 12, a sensitively observed indie about a tough but damaged young woman named Grace (played by Brie Larson) who runs a short-term care facility for abused and at-risk teenagers. When you watch these withdrawn kids try to overcome their heretofore-hopeless situations … well, you’re not a stone, are you? You’ll cry. And it’ll feel good. Vulture talked to Cretton and Larson about how there’s nothing like a well-made, honest tearjerker.
Are the two of you susceptible to a “good-cry” movie?
Larson: I love a good cry in a movie! I just really enjoy the experience of relating and caring about somebody other than myself, even if it’s just for an hour and a half. I just watched Fruitvale Station and I was so emotionally taken with it; I was upset and disturbed and didn’t really know what to do with myself after it was over.
Cretton: It’s embarrassing the movies that I cry in! I don’t cry that much in real life, but it always comes out in the theater. I think my most recent good-cry was for that documentary about the horse trainer, Buck. I watched that last month at Netflix and had a real good cry.
Brie, you lived through the experience of making Short Term 12, but did you still cry when you watched it?
Larson: The first time I watched it, I was just trying to understand what had happened, and I found myself getting excited and interested about things I didn’t expect. Like I realized I had never seen the back of my head before, and I got a real kick out of that — what a luxury to know what that looks like! [Laughs.] By the time I watched it the second time, though, I cried. I think I’ve watched it five or six times at this point, and I cry a lot when I watch it.
Is it exhausting as a lead actress to carry all that emotion?
Larson: I couldn’t do it unless I found it fun and interesting and an exciting challenge, but the lucky thing for me was that they scheduled this film in a smart way. Every times that emotions come up for Grace, she pushes them down further, and that’s a difficult thing to live in for twelve hours a day with no release. What worked out so well is that each week, when I got to the point where I felt I couldn’t hold it in any longer, I’d get to do a scene where I got to break a lamp three times, or I was handed a bat and got to smash a windshield! I got to let out my aggressions, and that was really necessary for me.
Grace puts up a lot of walls in order to deal with her job, so that she can go home at the end of the day and be all right. I would imagine that as an actress, you have to do that, too.
Larson: In the past, I’ve done dramatic roles and those roles brought up personal traumas that I used to get to those darker, more emotional places. I would relate to them really deeply and try to relive certain emotional experiences through these characters — which I realize now is extremely unhealthy! It just churns up a lot of stuff inside of you that doesn’t need to be churned anymore.
But the film is funny, too. Destin, you worked at a short term facility like this one. Is that humor true to life, a coping mechanism that people use there?
Cretton: It would have been very easy to tell this story and just cram all the hard parts of this world into a depressing movie, but for me, that would not have been an honest portrayal of my experience in this world. The humor in the movie is just a result of the environment we’re trying to portray. For most of the people I interviewed who work in this kind of place — myself included — humor isn’t just a nice thing, it’s incredibly necessary to survive. It’s something I often found in the best supervisors in places like this, that they would use humor all the time to relate to people and communicate. I didn’t want to shy away from the difficult parts of what it’s like to live and work in a place like this, but I also didn’t want to shy away from the real parts that are so blissful and hopeful and funny.
What was your most difficult day?
Larson: The hardest thing for me was doing the scene where one of the kids is hurting himself, just because for me personally, I have a really hard time with blood. I pride myself on the idea that I have a very distinct notion of the difference between fiction and reality — that’s what allows me to play these characters, that I know who I am and so I can distinguish who the character is — but somehow, when fake blood got involved, I couldn’t differentiate it from real blood. The actor did such a good job of seeming like he was passed out and dying, and it really freaked me out. It really scared me. I felt like I was trying to really save someone’s life, and that was the only time I left set really shaken and didn’t really say goodbye to anybody. One of the producers actually called me to make sure I got home okay, because they were concerned about my state when I left.
Brie, you’re also in the teen romance The Spectacular Now, another one of this summer’s good-cry movies.
Larson: Yeah, it’s so amazing. That movie is another film that becomes more fascinating to me every time I watch it, because Miles Teller and his performance are so striking. If you watch the movie a second time, you pick up on how hollow his life is from the beginning, and it makes it a sad movie. You see someone struggling so hard to use humor in order to be okay.
What would you say to someone who was interested in the movie, but is worried that it might be too sad to sit through?
Cretton: The foster-care facility is an extraordinarily emotional environment to work in, but it’s one that I think anyone can relate to. When people walk out of this film, I think they can do that with a real appreciation for life. It’s life-affirming.
Larson: I don’t think either Short Term 12 or The Spectacular Now is sad in a conventional way — they’re only sad if you think that living is sad. And it’s not! It’s many things. We as human beings, we struggle. There’s no perfection in living; there’s just trying.