Tension and release is the driving principle of a tearjerker, where every good fortune is countered by something worse. And as dismissive as critics often are of the genre, it's actually quite difficult for a director to make people cry en masse and genuinely feel things. Derek Cianfrance's foreboding melodrama The Light Between Oceans follows a quiet lighthouse keeper (Michael Fassbender) whose family crest seems emblazoned with misery after the end of the first World War, until he meets a woman (Alicia Vikander) who will marry and join him on his own private island. Then, of course, the results of this isolationism are also catastrophically sad. But for all the tragedy descending upon the characters of this film, it's difficult to muster adequate tears -- not because the acting is lackluster (it's incredible, actually), but because the onslaught of melancholia is so relentless that it's near impossible to refill the tear reserves.
Cianfrance may be the best actors' director working in the business today. His heartbreaking relationship drama Blue Valentine (2010) is unrivaled in its realism, complexity and compassion. In this film, the trifecta of Fassbender, Vikander and Rachel Weisz could themselves sweep the acting categories at the Oscars.
The context and substance of this story are heart-wrenching, but Cianfrance sometimes relies too heavily on our "mirror" neurons -- watching people cry continually for two hours becomes more numbing (or grating) than moving. And the characters become frustrating, despite the performances. Toward the end, I found myself begging for a break, for just one lengthy scene where no women had wet eyes to round it all out.