Happy endings and ideology
‘Girls are taught a lot of stuff growing up,’ says Gigi, the narrator of He’s Just Not That Into You: ‘If a guy punches you he likes you. Never trim your own bangs. And some day you will meet a wonderful guy and get your very own happy ending’. A seven-year-old Mary (Cortney Shounia) in The Wedding Planner tells her Barbie doll ‘You’ll live happily ever after,’ as she marries her off to a Ken. In French Kiss Kate (Meg Ryan) tearfully says of her ex-fiancé: ‘I’m going to get him back, and make him love me, and we are going to live happily ever after!’
As I have suggested, most spoken references to ‘happy endings’ or ‘happily-ever-afters’ uttered in Hollywood cinema invoke these concepts only to qualify them in some way. The examples above are no exception: Gigi goes on to explain that ‘sometimes we’re so focused on finding our happy ending that we don’t learn how to […] tell the ones who’ll stay from the ones who’ll leave’; The Wedding Planner dissolves from a close-up of Barbie’s face to a reallife bride who is apparently petrified by the prospect of marriage (‘I’m marrying the wrong guy!’ she wails); Kate is at this moment talking about her film’s ‘unsuitable’ partner. Yet – as we saw in the last chapter – Hollywood films do nonetheless often invoke these concepts, and not only in order to accuse them of unrealism, but frequently also in a manner suggesting that they are highly relevant to how characters live their lives. Forced upon children, infiltrating childhood games, providing a language through which to discuss relationships: the implication is that real life conceptions of love are intimately bound up – in however ambivalent a fashion – with the convention of the final couple. In short: it forms a central plank of the contemporary ideology of romantic love.
The constant recurrence of the terms in contemporary Western popular discourses of romance would seem to bear these films out: popular songs, selfhelp books, advice columns, dating sites – it is far from uncommon for all to use the concepts of ‘happy ending’ and ‘happily ever after’ as virtual metonyms