I used to be confused by those two terms-which is not a good thing, because sentiment (i.e., emotion) in a novel is a Good Thing, while sentimentality is not. Then I heard the difference explained this way: sentimentality almost always goes for the "expected" thing, often to the point of cliche. A depiction of true sentiment will cover new territory.
So--I've become an Alias freak. Never watched it on TV, but I've rented the DVDs and I am enthralled by the writing. Never a dull moment, never a plot thread wrapped up without another one being strung out.
Anyway, in season one (I think) Vaughn and Sydney are being attracted to each other. You know Vaughn wants to declare his feelings, but is he going to do it in a sentimental way? Of course not.
They're together and he shows her a watch--the watch his much-admired-and-killed-in-the-line-of-duty-father gave to him. "You see this watch?" he says. "My dad gave it to me. He said you could set your heart by this watch.'
Sydney looks at him, waiting.
Vaughn continues: "The thing is, this watch stopped on October first. That's the day we met."
And Sydney looks at him and smiles and says ,"Me, too."
Why is this great dialogue? Because 1) It's unexpected. 2) It's not "on the nose." It's not tit for tat. Sydney responds to what he's thinking, (I think I love you), not what he's saying.
I saw another great exchange today. Sydney and Vaughn are together, and Syd confesses that she lied to Vaughn about a co-worker. She says she pretty much grew up alone, so she's not used to being accountable to someone, and she's sorry she lied.
And Vaughn cocks a brow and you're not sure if he's going to be angry or forgiving or hurt or irritated . . . and then he offers her a bite of his ice cream, then he stands and offers her his hand. Invisible dialogue, pure sentiment, not gushy sentimentality.
Most of us have a little writer in us that is contantly predicting what a character will say--and in a lot of movies and TV shows, I find myself able to parrot dialogue right along with the characters because the setup and following lines are just so predictable. I've never been able to do that with Alias. And that's a delight.
I'm a fan. As if you couldn't tell.