My daughters tease me because I cry pretty easily at movies. I think a lot of times it’s the cueing of the sad music, but sometimes I can’t explain why. A few years ago, I famously cried at the trailer for the remake of Pete’s Dragon. That’s just embarrassing.
Last night, I took my two teenage daughters to see Crazy Rich Asians. And although the movie was not exactly a drama, my girls looked over to me from time to time in the theater, trying to suppress their smiles as they checked to see what ridiculous scene would make tears roll down my cheeks. About three quarters of the way through the movie, my fourteen year old did indeed look over at me, cracked a big grin, and poked her seventeen year old sister, pointing at me while rolling her eyes and whispered, “Oh my God, she IS crying.”
At the end of the movie, when the credits were rolling, they both laughed at me and wanted to know what in the movie made me cry. They asked if it was the wedding scene. I laughed, probably a little too cynically, and said, “Oh no, love doesn’t do that to me anymore.” My youngest then guessed correctly, “Oh, I know. It was the mom part.”
Now, I really liked the movie, and particularly loved that it dealt with mothers in two very real ways, that brought up very real emotions. Just a warning that if you keep reading, there are plot-point spoilers ahead.
I dealt with a helluva crazy mother-in-law when I was married. She criticized me and made fun of me from the day she met me, and that ultimately turned itself into a deep-seated hatred towards me. I can’t really explain why, other than feeling very confident that it’s fully Freudian in its origin and will only go away when she leaves this earth. Crazy Rich Asians struck a chord with my own experience in dealing with a potential mother-in-law who thinks a woman is beneath her son. In the movie, a couple who met in the United States travels to Singapore where the woman, Rachel, meets her boyfriend’s family. It is clear that the couple is in love, and that the son intends to marry Rachel. The son’s mother goes out of her way to corner Rachel alone, to tell her that she will never consider her good enough for her son. Rachel, a good girl who has done nothing offensive, is taken aback and wounded by the words coming from the woman to whom she had been going out of her way to be polite and respectful. There was nothing she had done to merit this treatment; it was based in willful bias.
This scene made tears of pain roll down my face. I have never forgotten how painful and destructive what my ex-mother-in-law did to me was, and having her out of my life perhaps brings me even greater joy than no longer being married to my ex-husband. She hated me for no reason, but had incredible emotional power over her son, whom I loved. It was all the more painful to me to receive that hatred because I tried so hard to be a wonderful girlfriend and, later, wife to her son.
The stories about my mother-in-law are ones for psychology textbooks. Once, she babysat my kids, and while we were out, did laundry and ironing, and then proceeded to go through my underwear drawer to put clothes away. Umm, can you say “no boundaries”? I addressed this by letting her know that the next time she babysat, that I didn’t want her to do work, but just enjoy the kids and not worry about cleaning or laundry. She took offense and didn’t talk to me for weeks. Ultimately, my husband told me I should try to make amends to make peace. Probably the most memorable time of her cruelty toward me was the morning after I found out my husband was having an affair. I could barely get out of bed from shock and grief, but my mother-in-law called me to tell me that she knew everything (because the other woman called her and told her). She then told me that I needed to know that it was all my fault and that she was encouraging my husband to leave me for the other woman. This as I’m trying to care for her three young grandchildren while her son was off getting his jollies with the neighbor. She clearly got her thrills or at least a sense of control by kicking people when they were down.
When you know in your heart that you are innocent, being on the receiving end of this sort of willful hatred will take your breath away. It reminds me of Dangerous Liaisons; there is absolute truth stated when the Marquise tells the Viscount that when a woman strikes at the heart of another woman, she rarely misses. As much as I’m all for “woman power,” I will never pretend that there aren’t ugly realities to so-called sisterhood.
Crazy Rich Asians, however, does a great job of balancing out the female characters and fleshing them out into full characters. The second scene that made me cry came at the very end of the climactic showdown between Rachel and her boyfriend’s mother. The scene, which takes place over a public game of mahjong, is, in my view, a nearly perfect victory scene. But Rachel finally getting her say wasn’t what made me cry. It was a few seconds later, after Rachel gets up from the table and walks away, because you then see Rachel’s mother rise out from the back of the hall, and you know that Rachel’s mother has been there all along, supporting her daughter and witnessing Rachel’s moral victory. The tears that came down my face at that moment in the movie weren’t ones of pain, but ones of a mother’s love and knowing that my kids know, as they sit there next to me in the theater, that I’m that mom.
The truth is that all of us women need to know that there is someone in the background at all times who is ready to come forward and kick ass on our behalf if we ever should need it. Those of us who have found ourselves without that trusty backup sometimes have made up for it by creating layers on the outside that makes us look much tougher than we really feel. It’s good-girl armor; it’s survival. It has been a terrible loss in my life to not have had that trusty sidekick. I have had to make up for that on many occasions. Men and my mom have been conspicuously absent for me at times of crucial need. But there is joy in my heart in knowing that even though I may cry at movies, I will always be there to be the ass-kicking sidekick for my daughters at their times of need. They will never have to fight an evil mother-in-law alone.