I was talking to a friend the other day about a movie I love, (500) Days of Summer. My friend, deluded character she is, did not share my affinity for the film. This, however, did not surprise me. Most people expect happy endings where the protagonists end up together, and (500) Days of Summer, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, is not one of those movies. It’s better. It’s a movie for hopeless romantics.
I bet I lost you there, didn’t I? Most people equate being a hopeless romantic with happy endings. That’s simply wrong. Most people who think they are hopeless romantics are actually hopeful romantics. At the end of the story, a hopeful romantic wants the protagonists to end up together. They want a happy ending tied neatly with a bow. Me? I’m a realist. I hate those kind of stories. Life is messy. I want a messy story where things don’t work out as you expect them to, where you realize at the end that everything is as it should be even if it isn’t how you thought it would be. I knew five minutes into (500) Days that I would love the film because the narrator announces, “This is a story about boy meets girl, but you should know up front this is not a love story.” Perfect. Just the way I like it.
When I think about romantic films that have truly resonated with me, nearly all of them involve endings that aren’t traditionally happy: Out of Africa, The English Patient, Once, The Age of Innocence, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and The End of the Affair. In these films, the characters touch each other’s lives deeply but as a couple they are simply aren’t meant to last. Their beauty lies in their tragedy. That’s what hopeless romance implies, an impossibility, an impediment that makes what can’t be far more meaningful than what can be.
What’s romantic about Pretty Woman? Seriously. Think about it. Prostitute meets client. Client purchases prostitute. They fall for each other. Client walks away, but suddenly has a change of heart and returns. BORING! Not to mention degrading and pathetic. The story I want to see is the one where they get together, have a few children, and then she finds out that, unable to quell his desires, he’s still seeking out prostitutes. Now, that would make for a compelling story. Maybe they work it out. Maybe they don’t. But, either way at least there is some depth there, something to think about.
Okay. Okay. I don’t really expect anyone to agree with me on this. I know I fall into a small and silent minority on this topic, and I’m not going to change anyone’s mind. But, I stand by the fact that we would not still know the story of Romeo and Juliet if Shakespeare had ended the play with a final scene where Juliet is washing Romeo’s undergarments while Romeo is out having some fine mead with the old gang. Just saying.