Wednesday, April 2, 2014
You never go full happy
You may recall a certain Ben Stiller-directed movie from a couple years ago about a certain war movie being filmed somewhere in Southeast Asia and a certain British actor wearing blackface (played by a certain popular American actor who usually has iron over his face) who has a certain controversial line of dialogue about going "full retard." His advice is that you should never do it, if you want to win an Oscar.
Similarly, if you want to avoid your movie being accused of having too happy of an ending, you should never go "full happy."
Powder Blue, an overstretched little Los Angeles hyperlink movie from 2009, may seem like a strange example to use of this phenomenon, but it just so happens that watching it is when these thoughts about "fully happy" occurred to me.
Although I hardly think it important not to spoil the ending of a movie whose main claim to fame is that Jessica Biel goes topless (twice), I'll remain vague for those of you out there who might care.
The movie ends with two characters sitting on benches about 100 yards from each other, noticing the other and smiling. These are the two characters who the story means to end up together from about its halfway point (after one of the characters has been missing from the plot for a good half-hour). It's pretty clear that this will ultimately happen, and in that moment where they notice each other on the benches (one is a bus stop), I thought "Okay, this is a good place to end this movie." Didn't mean it would suddenly become a great movie, but it held the possibility of ending things in a graceful manner.
Uh uh. The characters have to cross to each other and have one of those epic kisses, one that's so epic that the camera's only option is to pull out to about a thousand feet away before going to the credits.
See? "Full happy."
What struck me about this is that it seems kind of unusual these days, at least in movies that are trying to be independent and thought-provoking. Powder Blue is definitely trying to do both, and mostly failing.
Movies that want to have it both ways -- shoot for realism, but also leave the viewer feeling happy -- have figured out plenty of ways to suggest a happy ending without turning that ending into a 100% certainty. Let's take a prominent example from this past year: Her. I'm sorry if you haven't seen Her yet, and I'm sorry if you thought that the ending would be depressing or bleak. You can consider this a spoiler alert if you fit into either category.
Her, another Los Angeles story, ends with its intended new lovebirds (played by Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams) sitting together on a rooftop, looking out contemplatively over the city. Each has recently become available, and the story has made it clear that the two have been inching towards each other for some time, ready to finally find a fully satisfying relationship in each others' arms. (Because, you know, an operating system tends not to have arms.)
Spike Jonze doesn't have to have Phoenix and Adams lean in for a kiss to indicate that there will probably be kisses in their future. It's enough to know that they have found each other, on this rooftop, and that we can trust them to take it from here.
This is of course just one example, not nearly the best nor most prominent (though probably one of the most recent). It's a happy ending without being a HAPPY ENDING.
A shrewd filmmaker should trust us enough to leave us merely with hope. Hope leaves that kiss up to our imagination. It also leaves us with the possibility that it won't work out, if we want to read the ending that way. Few movies have it both ways better than the ending of a movie that bears some high-concept romantic similarities to Her, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Of course, neither is Powder Blue the most prominent example of a "full happy" ending, though it's definitely the most recent, at least for me, as I just saw it last night. Ending with just an exchange of smiles and knowing glances from benches across the street would not have made Powder Blue a good movie, but it would have made it a better one.
I suppose my real reason for writing this post is that I promised I would write a review of every new movie I'm seeing until the end of April, and since I can't really write two posts about a movie as insignificant as Powder Blue, this post lets me off the hook for writing that review. You see, one of the problems about this "review everything" approach to blogging is that if I allow myself to become imprisoned by my self-imposed guidelines, I stop writing posts about movie phenomena that are inspired by the things I see, because they don't fit neatly into the type of package that reviews force them into. I thought about the "full happy" ending while watching Powder Blue, so I want Powder Blue to by my news peg for writing that post, gosh darn it.
And that, my friends, is my own little happy ending for today.