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The New Happily Ever After: Make Your Own Music Movies
If you're feeling like a solo singer in a Captain and Tennille world, and you're beginning to sound a little off-key, retune your instrument with one of these Make Your Own Music Movies, where happily ever after doesn't always involve a march down the aisle into an off-screen married utopia.
These movies help us to understand that sometimes a girl's got to do what a girl's got to do in order to reach her own happy endingwhich may or may not involve a lace-trimmed white gown, a coterie of gals in blushing and bashful pink, and a guy in a matching cummerbund. And if achieving happiness means leaving your fiance in the lurch and going off to London, Paris, or Tokyo to discover yourself, or standing your ground solo right here at home, then so be it. These alternative happy endings remind us all that the only true happily ever after involves making our own dreams come true, and that the only way to achieve harmony with someone else is to find the melody in our own hearts.
Ghost World (2001)
Stars: Thora Birch, Steve Buscemi, Scarlett Johansson
Director: Terry Zwigoff
Writers: Daniel Clowes, Terry Zwigoff, based on the comic strip Ghost World by Daniel Clowes
While riding off into the sunset on a broken-down bus headed for parts unknown with only a hatbox for company may seem like a dubious metaphor for a happy ending, in Ghost World, a movie adapted from Daniel Clowes's comic book of the same name, this lonely image is a heartening reminder that if we wait long enough at the bus stop of fate, our destiny will eventually arrive. And while the future is always revealed one local stop at a time, if we maintain our faith in ourselves and our journey, wherever the bus stops we'll always be home.
Enid (Thora Birch) is woefully out of step with the suburban strip mall wasteland that she calls home. She doesn't fit in at high school graduation (in fact, she finds out at graduation that she has to go to summer school in order to get her diploma). She doesn't fit in at the prom, she doesn't fit in hanging out at the local convenience store, she doesn't fit in even in an art class (and she's an artist), and, perhaps hardest of all, she no longer even fits in with the one oasis of companionship she's found in her lonely, teen-angst-ridden desert: her best friend Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) and their plan to get jobs, find an apartment, and move in together after graduation.
As this first summer of their independence unfolds, everything goes according to plan for Rebecca, who presents a far more socially acceptable picture to the world. Rebecca quickly finds a job in a local coffee bar, a boyfriend, and ultimately, an apartment for her and Enid to move in to. Not so for Enid, whose path turns out to be a long and winding road that does not lead to Rebecca's door, or indeed to anything even remotely resembling normal post-high school teenagedom. Confined to the outskirts of small-town society, Enid experiments with ironical and asymmetrical and sometimes downright startling fashion statements, dabbles in random displays of confrontational performance art, and strikes up an intense and insular relationship with some guy named Seymour. Seymour (Steve Buscemi) is a middle-aged fried chicken franchise middle manager, who harbors a passion for collecting vintage records and whose fashion statements are as startling as Enid's only without the sense of irony, and who looks like, well, Steve Buscemi.
As the demand for purpose and direction widens into a deep chasm in Enid's life, her options keep narrowing until she is stuck between a rock and the hard place of her own eccentric worldview. Finally, when all of the obvious choices elude her, Enid at last finds the courage to turn her back on the claustrophobic horizons of small-town normalcy, and board her bus to nowhere and everywhere.
If you're feeling like you've been waiting forever at the bus stop of life for a lift into your future, and you're beginning to wonder if your route has been canceled, watch Ghost World and remember that meaning, redemption, and yes, even love will eventually pull up to the curb and open the door for you, so long as you don't lose faith and leave the bus stop before the Greyhound of your destiny arrives.
The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)
Stars: Meryl Streep, Jeremy Irons
Director: Karel Reisz
Writer: Harold Pinter, based on the novel by John Fowles
Okay, so she's the scarlet woman of Lyme, whom the townsfolk in their kinder moments refer to as "poor Tragedy," and she's forced to sell herself into indentured servitude to the most sour-faced matron ever to haunt the drawing room of a nineteenth-century British film adaptation (and that's saying a lot). But does that mean that a girl can't rise to the occasion and become a self-actualized heroine for the new millennium and discover her artistic center? Not in this big-budget period piece starring Meryl Streep as Sarah Woodruff, a caped, hooded, and distinctly gothic metaphor for abandonment issues and the Victorian victimization of women. And yes, she has a very convincing English accent.
Sarah stalks the ramparts on the wrong side of town, waiting for a ship that will never come in, and reminding us all that while sticks and stones may not break our bones, invitations to the hotel rooms of wounded but still randynot to mention marriedFrench officers can definitely hurt us, no matter how handsome they look in their epaulets.
Rather than remain a victim of the small town's enactment of their collective psychosexual dysfunction, however, Sarah enlists the support of a handsome, albeit somewhat bookish, aristocrat, Charles (Jeremy Irons), and finds her way to freedom from the needs, desires, and prejudices of men and relationships.
This is a great movie to watch when you're feeling abandoned on the jetty of your own unrealized expectations of love, and there are no white sails on the horizon. The French Lieutenant's Woman will encourage you to believe that there is a happily ever after waiting for you, as soon as you find the strength to row your own boat to shore.
Legally Blonde (2001)
Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Matthew Davis
Director: Robert Luketic
Writers: Karen McCullah Lutz, Kirsten Smith, based on the novel by Amanda Brown
In this Clueless-meets-The-Paper-Chase flick, a not-so-dumb blonde comes of age, discovers her inner passion, and develops the courage to follow it . . . and then events conspire to bring her everything she deserves.
To her total shock, Elle Wood (Reese Witherspoon), a California University fashion major/sorority president/Alpha Barbie, gets dumped by her old-money, East Coaster boyfriend Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis) because, as he puts it, she's a Marilyn and he needs a Jackie. Elle immediately begins working her way through boxes of bonbons while watching weepy love stories. But after one wretched week of despair, during which she not only doesn't deep condition her hair but actually lets her cuticles go, Elle picks herself up and formulates a plan to get him back. Yes, she'll ace her LSAT, get admitted to Harvard Law School (where Warner is headed), move to Cambridge, and win that man back.
Elle is thrilled to find that things work out even better than planned, and she eventually ends up with new friends, a much better lover than Warner could ever hope to be, a prime position in a Boston firm, and an array of Prada pumps.
So if you're feeling aimless and insignificant, and utterly hopeless about life and love, pop in Legally Blonde, break out the bonbons, attend to those cuticles, and get ready for a major pep talk.
My Brilliant Career (1979)
Stars: Judy Davis, Sam Neill, Wendy Hughes, Robert Grubb, Aileen Britton
Director: Gillian Armstrong
Writer: Eleanor Whitcombe, based on the novel by Miles Franklin
Sybylla Melvyn (Judy Davis) is fond of playing spirited piano pieces, walking fully dressed through the pouring rain, climbing trees, and gaily singing pub songs, which is all behavior that, in turn-of-the-century Possum Gully, Australia, mark her as a very bad girl in need of being shipped off to the relatives for correction. In the hopes that a Jenny Jones makeover will result in her getting hitched to some unsuspecting local man, Sybylla's Aunt Helen (Wendy Hughes) and grandmother (Aileen Britton) do the day-spa thing, soaking Sybylla in lemon water and brushing her unruly red hair a hundred strokes each night.
This plan sort of works: the freshly scrubbed Sybylla does attract two potential suitors, Frank (Robert Grubb) and Harry (Sam Neill). But under the surface she is still the same incorrigible youth, unwilling to give up her dreams of a brilliant career that makes the most of her musical and literary gifts. Harry, the wealthier of the two suitors, holds out for a change of heart and dearly wishes he could fulfill Sybylla's needs. Sybylla does love him, but the social mores of the time and place force her to make a hard choice between career and marriage, and she's too strong a spirit to put her own needs behind those of anyone else.
Watch this movie when you're going through an I-hate-being-single patch and remind yourself that being unencumbered allows us to turn our attention toward fulfilling our own promise. And at least these days, marriage doesn't mean having to kill all hope of a brilliant career.
I'm the One That I Want (2000)
Stars: Margaret Cho
Director: Lionel Coleman
Writer: Margaret Cho
In this filmed version of comedienne Margaret Cho's live performance at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco, we get an up-close-and-personal view of Margaret's journey toward self-love, which begins, like many such journeys, with self-loathing.
When Margaret gets her first big break with a TV sitcom based on her life, the network immediately sets about molding Margaret into a television version of herself, the end result of which bears no resemblance whatsoever to the original. After initial screenings, network execs demand that Margaret lose thirty pounds in two weeks because "her face is too big," they rewrite the story of her life, and even hire an Asian consultant to teach this Asian American how to be Asian American. Then, in a final ironic twist, they cancel the show and replace Margaret with Drew Carey, who is definitely not a size eight. Margaret descends into a haze of disappointment, self-contempt, and vodka, but then rises from the ashes, reclaiming her original voice, her original sense of humor, and her original shape.
Margaret Cho's unflinching, hilarious, and sometimes raunchy brand of confessional stand-up reminds us all that the most important element in any happily ever after is to learn how to speak with our own voice, inhabit our own body regardless of its dimensions, and become the one that we want by loving ourselves for who we truly are without the need for outside consultants.