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Armelle Parey, Isabelle Robin and Dominique Sipière, eds. : Happy Endings and Films

David ROCHE
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Armelle PAREY, Isabelle ROBIN and Dominique SIPIÈRE, eds. : Happy Endings and Films. Paris: Michel Houdiard, 2010. ISBN : 978-2356920348

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1Happy Endings and Films focuses on a topic that, as the selective bibliography shows, has rarely been analyzed (Richard Neupert’s The End: Narration and Closure in the Cinema is probably the most notable book on the subject). And yet, as the editors recall in their efficient introduction, assumptions about happy endings abound: they are often associated with Hollywood and generally thought to be simple, conventional and conservative, and thus ultimately suspicious and acceptable only when ironic. The twelve essays collected here deal mainly with Hollywood films and some British films, often comedies, as the index shows, and are entirely written in English which will no doubt enable the book to reach a wider readership.

2The first part of the book deals with classical Hollywood films. James McDowell questions the common assumptions critics have about happy endings and argues that the notion needs to be clearly defined as a norm if one wants to argue that it is being subverted, and that some happy endings are just ambiguous and not necessarily subversive (22). Dominique Sipière proposes an ambitious typology of happy endings (31), which he then tests out on several films, notably Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942). Serge Chauvin takes a mainly diachronic look at a subgenre, Hollywood fictions of (re)marriage, which take for their starting point what is often deemed to be the traditional resolution of comedy, making “any conclusive resolution problematic” (44), so that marriage is increasingly seen as a “dead end” (48).

3The second part deals with two important directors. Laëtitia Lefèvre-Thierry shows that the double end of Body and Soul (Oscar Micheaux, 1925) foreshadows the controversial happy endings of Micheaux’s later films, as it chooses the possibility of happiness for blacks, which would resemble white happiness, over victimization (61). Although I find it questionable to assert that Match Point (Woody Allen, 2005) offers a happy ending, Ronan Ludot-Vlasak convincingly argues that the ending exemplifies Allen’s belief that a tragic vision of fate is not appropriate in the modern world (71).

4In the third part, Ariane Hudelet and Shannon Wells-Lassagne argue that the endings of adaptations, biopics and fantasies like the TV series Lost in Austen (2008) usually tone down the irony and social critique of writers like Austen and Thackeray, and emphasize the fairy tale quality in order to enact the audience’s fantasies of romance (86), sometimes with double ends where “the second ending turns its back on the complexities raised by the first” (98).

5In the fourth part devoted to romantic comedies, Celestino Deleyto reveals that, in some contemporary films, what could have been an “unhappy” endings turns out to be positive as the characters have emerged more mature from the magic middle space of the film. Manuela Ruiz Pardos adds to this argument by showing how contemporary romantic comedies are symptomatic of cultural changes, as they call into question and reformulate the traditional happily-ever-after ending, sometimes emphasizing family and friendship over love. Taïna Tuhkunen nevertheless insists that other romantic comedies continue to promise happy endings even when the film skips the marriage scene.

6In the last part, Armelle Parey surveys the variety of happy endings, both simple and complex, in contemporary films, while María del Mar Azcona shows that the endings of multiple protagonist films cast a wide perspective, suggesting that life goes on for characters subjected to various forces.

7By the end of the book, the reader will, no doubt, agree that happy endings, and endings in general, are a worthy research topic, if only because they are an intrinsic part of the narrative structure; indeed, many of the articles analyze at length the relationship between the ending and the rest of the narrative. It seems to me that the articles tend to emphasize that the more problematic term is, in effect, “happy,” thus raising many questions: what exactly do we mean by happiness? which aspects of happiness (if any) are timeless? which are culturally-determined? if happiness is, in effect, a culturally-determined norm, then how can a happy ending be subversive? In other words, happy endings may have changed and may appear less conservative compared to classical models, but does it necessarily entail that they are not conservative in the light of contemporary (gender, race, family, social) politics?

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David ROCHE, « Armelle Parey, Isabelle Robin and Dominique Sipière, eds. : Happy Endings and Films », E-rea [En ligne], 9.1 | 2011, mis en ligne le 11 septembre 2011, consulté le 21 octobre 2017. URL : http://erea.revues.org/1891

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