I have beloved a phrase coined by a college roomate: "Look out, they're trying to touch your heart without your permission!" - said during a movie we didn't expect to be so emotionally stirring. He was a renowned cynic and when his eyes started welling up, he had to come up with something I guess, and that was it. Brilliant.
The rule about entertainments that do that (the unsolicited heart-touching) is it has to come with some sort of payoff that makes it worth the emotional trouble.
Tragedies particularly illustrate this principle. If everything ends badly, then there has to be something in there that made it worthwhile. Apocalypse Now, Body Heat, and Terms of Endearment come to mind.
When there is no point to the tragedy, you get something like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, where you start out getting your heart broken as this little deformed baby with liver spots on its hand reaches up to hold his adopted mom's hand at night, then it all ends with having to watch a baby die (in his ex-wife's arms, no less). And there you are, all wrung out for nothing.
This isn't even a one trick pony, it's a half of a trick pony. All the movie does is play out the premise and that's it. There's nothing else there. Since this is a Fincher film, it honestly surprised me. This is his first full-on stinker.
If you want to see something real, something with passion, watch the extras where they show you how they pasted Brad Pitt's face on various avatars and stand-ins to make it look like he's really a 2-year-old troll. There you see passion and meaning, of a sort.
This unsolicited heart-touching kinda scotched the new Pixar 'toon Up for my fambly. It made my eldest cry from the start, and thus left her too bereft to enjoy the rest. Same for my wife. What did it for me, besides that, was piss me off when the bad guy purposely set up the child in the film to die a horrible death. Even if it is just a cartoon kid, it bothers me that bazillions of kids now have the idea in their head that a mean old guy might just let them fall to their deaths.
Full disclosure, my family has been contrarian, though, on a few Pixar films. We literally couldn't get through Ratatouille and thought Cars was merely OK. We hated Finding Nemo. The eldest's first words as we walked from the theater were, "Jeez, everyone in that movie was damaged in some way. Weird." We all got tired of playing "what's the handicap?!?" during the flick. We found Denis Leary's dental-instrument-scarred fish the most disturbing.
We might have a different aesthetic than other families, perhaps.
Note: I started writing this post on 6/22, and upon reading Whisky's recent post about David Edelstein's coinage of the standard Pixar plot: inconsolable woe ---> sentiment ---> riotous chases ---> rousing cliff-hanger - I nearly leapt up and said "Hell Yeah!" Because it's so true. But merely muttered "dammit" because I had been sorta scooped, even though my point is slightly different.