''Stepmom'' breaks out the tissues -- Sony embraces the ''tearjerker'' label with a unique promotion to tout Julia Roberts' new film

By Andrew Essex
Updated April 02, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Last Christmas, when the Julia Roberts-Susan Sarandon drama Stepmom arrived in theaters, we kept a little secret. Though Sarandon’s character was dying of cancer, Sony begged us not to mention the T-word (as in tearjerker). So imagine our surprise when a promo version of the video arrived this week…with a built-in tissue dispenser holding three two-ply, nonscented hankies. Why the big switch from top secret weepie to studio-sanctioned Kleenex classic? ”We really have no comment on that,” says Sony spokesman Jeff Kaplan. Industry experts are sniffing out their own theories. Says Exhibitor Relations president Paul Dergarabedian: ”Once you’re characterized as a tearjerker, a lot of guys won’t go. I think Sony [now] wants men who cry in the privacy of their own couches.”