Stick Figures

Do We Really Need Happy Endings?

imageHave you ever read a book or watched a movie that was utterly destroyed by its ending?  You follow the characters passionately from beginning to end only to have the floor ripped out from under you in the last five minutes.  As avid consumers of media, we have been raised with an understanding of the tropes of specific genres.  Authors whisper promises to us between the lines, and we feel betrayed when those promises are broken.

We are well trained.

One of our common expectations, in Western literature at least, is to have a happy ending–or at the very least–and ending that is clear cut and lacks ambiguity.  That is not to say that there aren’t plenty of examples of pieces that rally against this and readers/viewers (myself included) that take great pleasure in endings that leave us in a grey zone–a questioning, confused, you’re-on-your-own-Jack zone.  It is up to the reader/viewer to try and answer those questions, and in doing so, ask even bigger ones.

It is the nerdiest and best kind of fun to get inside a piece of art(books/movies) and see how it ticks.  I love finding art that comments on art itself as well as the process of creating it, and best of all, I love finding art that comments on the viewer–that finds a way to take that viewer’s thinking apart as the viewer is taking the art apart.

This is exactly what I found in The Bag Man.  This movie got bad reviews, but I watched it anyway because–hey–I’m obsessed with John Cusak.  As I watched it, I thought I understood why it failed.  The movie was written to comment on scripts–on plot conventions and tropes of the fiction crystallized beautifully in De Niro’s monologue in Room 14 toward the end of the film (which I won’t ruin–just watch it!).  There was also a nifty supernatural layer that made the viewer question whether they were dealing with angels and devils–if only for a brief time.  I surmised the reason most viewers couldn’t connect with this movie was because they couldn’t grasp those layers–that it was a movie more for critics and weirdos like me than for general audiences.

But then I reached the true horror of this film–its ending.

The last five minutes seemed rushed and out of place.  This “happy” ending gave undue closure to what was otherwise a grotesque/beautiful pool of ambiguity that led the viewer to ask questions about our dark hero and how “good” he really is.  THEY SHOULD HAVE LEFT IT!!

I am neither for nor against happy endings.  I love all kinds of endings as long as they fit.  When something is forced in because it is expected…it’s pretty sad.  We remember endings and beginnings best (brain science, baby), so make them count!

Michelle Joyce Bond


Book Destroys Movie: Confessions of a Shopaholic

ImageRecently, I’ve been on a Sophie Kinsella kick and blasted through the highly entertaining Confessions of a Shopaholic in anticipation of watching it retold in the magic of moving pictures–or as close as I could get to “magic” with a library DVD, a grimacing husband…and my own creeping pessimism.  Because, really, my excitement had nothing to do with seeing a good movie.  No, my twisted anticipation was born in the surety that the thing would be a complete train wreck.

So was it as horrific as I’d hoped? Short answer: no.  Really, the film wasn’t terrible, but as I expected, it didn’t live up to the book.  Frowning, I dragged the cliché “the book is always better” from its moldy crypt and flailed it around while my husband promptly searched for the manliest movie with the most explosions possible to cleanse his tainted palate.  But, if the box office has anything to say about it, there are books that do quite well as movies.  Their narratives are more compact and work better in a two-hour squeeze.  They have plots that are driven by action or settings saturated with descriptive imagery.  Most importantly, these books include character arcs that are easily conveyed by external means–chiefly through the use of riveting dialogue or action. 

The failure of a book-turned-movie to do well on the big screen is usually–no surprise–the inability of movies to deeply submerge the audience in a character’s thoughts and internal conflict.  The real enjoyment in reading Confessions of a Shopaholic definitely wasn’t watching Rebecca Bloomwood, a.k.a. Becky, purchase gobs of designer clothes and other nonsense.  It was in listening to Becky’s thoughts–how she talked herself into every purchase, reasoning around her own self-imposed rules with outrageous justifications created on the spot.

The book was written almost as a series of vignettes wherein Becky would set out with a plan and a bounce in her step only to fail in the most embarrassing and, subsequently, most entertaining way possible.  In order to truly appreciate the absurdity of her failures, one must hear Becky’s thoughts and how, over the course of a scene, she reasons herself into a deeper and deeper hole.  She makes us uncomfortable because she does not think like a heroine.  Most people who dislike the book cite an inability to identify with Becky.  She appears to lack any redeeming qualities and garners the attention of an attractive, intelligent businessman despite her obvious faults.  Really, the book is a study in how to write a well-developed anti-hero.   Identifying with Becky isn’t the point, though we may from time to time on a superficial level.  The point is to kick our heads back and laugh in disbelief as she continuously self-destructs. 

That said, the movie made a valiant effort to convey some of the internal narrative–most notably the mannequins that talk Becky into buying various overpriced apparel–but we barely scratch the surface of how broken she actually is. There are other points I could make about the Americanization of the plot and the changes that were made in the interest of playing up the book’s barely-there romance, but none of this matters as much as the film’s inability to give us the real Becky.