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Happy Endings in Hollywood Cinema: Cliché, Convention and the Final Couple

By James Macdowell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Happy endings and unrealism

When the term ‘happy ending’ is spoken in Hollywood movies, it is usually being debunked for promulgating idealism in the face of life’s true hardships. One of the most bitterly ironic uses of the phrase, for instance, comes in the WWII romance Waterloo Bridge (1940) when Roy (Robert Taylor), unaware that his fiancée has been forced into prostitution via a combination of economic circumstance and erroneous news of his death, tells her upon his reappearance, ‘Darling, don’t cry it’s a happy ending…’; almost fifty years later, at the somber and amoral conclusion of Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989), Judah (Martin Landau) says simply that, ‘If you want a happy ending you should go see a Hollywood movie.’ Repeatedly, in all kinds of films, the term ‘happy ending’ is compared to fantasy and illusion, and contrasted to the comparative harshness of the real world.1

This is the same basic pattern that tends to govern movies’ uses of the term ‘happily ever after’, which will commonly be mocked for referring to a naïve, ‘fairy tale’ view of life, and romantic love in particular. Sometimes this point is made in reference to specific relationships: in The Awful Truth Lucy tells a judge during her divorce proceedings that she and Jerry ‘thought we had better get married; that way we were able to give Mr. Smith [their dog] a better home and live happily ever after until now…’; in Caught, jealous husband Smith (Robert Ryan) angrily taunts his wife about the affair he presumes she is having: ‘You thought you’d live happily ever after and I’d pay for it’; recently, in Mamma Mia (2008), divorcee Sam (Pierce Brosnan) warns the teenage daughter of a former flame that ‘I’ve done the big white wedding and believe me it doesn’t always end in happily ever after.’ The phrase may also be made to refer explicitly to false romantic dreams propagated by popular culture; in He’s Just Not That Into You (2009) Gigi (Ginnifer Cooper) laments that ‘There’s always a story about some girl getting married and living happily ever after. But that’s the exception, and we’re not the exception we’re the rule’; in

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