“And they lived happily ever after” finales in romantic films never work. They never stick to your ribs. If they seem to half-deliver they certainly don’t last in the memory. The best endings, as Sydney Pollack pointed out time and again, are ones in which it hasn’t worked out and the lead protagonists realize it’s gone for good. Final, irreparable. My three favorites are the finales of Ang Lee‘s Brokeback Mountain, Hal Ashby‘s Shampoo and Pollack’s The Way We Were. What are some of the others? Remember — we’re talking about a feeling of absolute romantic failure and loss. Death can’t be a factor — the lovers have to realize and accept that it’s their fault.
Warren Beatty’s George Roundy watching the love of his life, Julie Christie’s Jackie Shaw, drive off to Acapulco with Jack Warden’s Lester Karp in Shampoo (’75).
When I say that “happily ever after” finales in romantic films never really work, I meant, of course, that they they don’t work with people with any sense of taste or discernment. In this context I’m automatically discounting the reactions of under-30 women — the most breathtakingly shallow demographic on the planet.
The only “happily ever after” finale that will always work for me (and I realize I’m inviting criticism by saying this) is the ending of Silver Linings Playbook.