In the “news” recently have been reports that “scientists” have identified the “saddest movie ever.” According to Smithsonian Magazine, the movie clip most likely to make participants in a 1995 study cry is the climactic scene of 1979’s The Champ, in which a little boy (played by then-Ricky Schroeder) watches his boxer father (Jon Voight) die in the ring. The article explains that the researchers used film clips to evoke emotional reactions in subjects because ethical restrictions prevented them from, for instance, telling a study participant that his or her adored puppy had been run over by a car and/or beloved grandmother had succumbed to a fatal illness (while the study participant was there at the lab, watching movie clips and eating free science popcorn).
The flaws of this study are obvious: While it might be not entirely inaccurate to conclude that the one particular scene in The Champ is the saddest of all the sad clips shown to the sadness study participants fifteen years ago, it can not fairly be said that The Champ is the saddest movie ever. That movie is coming soon, because we’re working on it now.
Sad Movie (2013) begins with a typeset announcement on screen: While the audience was just watching the preview for Smurfs 2: Smurf City, USA or Cowboys & Alienists—nine children starved to death in Africa. The money spent on a single matinee ticket probably could have saved four of them.
The movie proper centers on a young girl named Dolores and her “sad-ventures” in the orphanage where she lives. She is the only orphan there, in fact. A montage under the opening credits shows every one of her friends being adopted in turn by loving couples until only Dolores remains in the large, decrepit home for unwanted children. Dolores stands at a window, looking out, a tear streaming down her cheek... and the camera pulls out to show that it is raining, as if all of the angels in Heaven are crying, on the orphanage, and also on the buildings on either side of the orphanage: on the left, a hospice; on the right, a shelter for abused and neglected animals.
The next morning, although the sun is shining and it could be a day filled with renewed hope for the future, a man from the city buildings department nails a notice of condemnation to the door of the orphanage. Inside, the manageress of the orphanage, sweet old Miss Hazelbaker (who, flashbacks reveal, was always kind to Dolores) informs the girl that she must choose whether she will now live in the hospice or the animal shelter. (Miss Hazelbaker will be going into the hospice, and not so much by choice.)
Dolores chooses to live in the animal shelter, but she visits Miss Hazelbaker every day until the old woman’s eventual death. Soon after, Dolores suspects that Miss Hazelbaker’s soul has been transferred to the body of a cat at the shelter—formerly very hostile toward Dolores, then suddenly quite affectionate—but before Dolores can investigate the possibility, the cat succumbs to feline immunodeficiency virus.
Act One of the movie ends with a lawyer showing up at the animal shelter, looking for Dolores specifically, sitting her down, and informing her that Miss Hazelbaker had named Dolores the sole beneficiary of her estate in her last will and testament. Because Miss Hazelbaker had died penniless and with no next of kin, however, not only will Dolores not be receiving any monetary bequest, but she is also responsible to reimburse the hospice for the funeral expenses advanced on Miss Hazelbaker’s behalf. Accordingly, Dolores’s wages will be garnished when she is old enough to work and gets her first job. When the lawyer leaves the animal shelter, it is raining again.
As of this writing, that’s as far as we’ve gotten with the story treatment, but there will almost certainly be a scene in which a teenaged Dolores learns—during a conversation had outside in the rain—that a boy she likes wouldn’t ever be able to marry her because of her early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Even as, over the course of the rest of her life, she forgets everything and everyone who ever meant anything to her, Dolores never forgets this. When Dolores is an old woman in a nursing home, the boy she liked as a teenager (soon to celebrate his fiftieth wedding anniversary, with another woman) visits her and reads to her from a book of romantic poetry that he himself wrote (and the publication of which made him obscenely wealthy). The title of the book is Dolores, Amor Perdido de Mi Corazón, but the meaning is lost on our heroine, who never learned Spanish.
Ideally, when the audience leaves the theater after viewing Sad Movie, it will be raining. We’ve got special effects wizards figuring out how to make that happen.
Matthew David Brozik wrote this and many other short humor pieces, which have been published in print and online by The New Yorker, Adult Swim, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Grin & Tonic, The Big Jewel, and no one.