One of the key selling points of romantic comedies is the guaranteed ‘feel-good’ factor that the audience is going to experience come the end. Romantic Comedies tend to be crushingly formulaic wherein a couple meet, get together and break-up only to realise their true feelings and unite just before the closing credits.
More often than not, these things tend to happen to well-to-do good looking people. Many British romantic comedies have detailed love stories between professional tennis players, a human rights lawyer and a T.V. presenter, a bookshop owner and an actual film star and that’s before we’ve even got to the cast of Love Actually or Four Weddings and a Funeral. Across the pond we often find attractive characters with impossibly big New York apartments who have a seemingly interesting job working for a magazine yet find themselves looking for love.
In spite of the fact that characters in such films tend to be good-looking, rich and with decent jobs, we still find ourselves routing for them to find love and get the feeling that come the end their lives are complete, they’re completely happy and we’re happy for them. Some films succeed more than others at this and it often depends on how likeable the characters are (often a contrast is made with a repulsive character such as a Daniel Cleaver to emphasise this). Yet it could be argued that the ‘feel-good’ endings these films often promote are not really earned. The films tell us life is incomplete without love but this can be deemed a falsity. Things might turn out alright in the end but often they were pretty good to start with. Without feeling true despair, how can we feel truly happy when things work out?
One film that plays the real notion of ‘feel-good’ is Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. Is it a romantic comedy? It’s up for debate, but it does have a central romance and is at times very funny. The film however had what was, some would argue, a mis-leading marketing campaign. An image of a smiling Dev Patel and Freida Pinto smiling amidst a shower of ticker-tape while a dominating critic quote proclaimed it to be ‘The feel-good film of the decade’ adorned cinema hallways and the sides of buses during the films release. Some audiences were then shocked when they encountered many of the film’s harsher elements. During the screening in which myself and fellow Outward collaborator Matthew Simmonds watched the film, there was a telling moment in the cinema after the horrendous ‘blinding’ scene. The audience had collectively winced and a lady sat just behind us turned to her husband and stated ‘I thought you said this was a nice film…’
It most certainly isn’t a ‘nice’ film in many ways but does that stop it being feel-good? Absolutely not. In fact, quite the opposite. Lest we forget that SPOLIER WARNING Jamal wins the television show fortune and subsequently manages to reunite with Latika. It all ends with a Bollywood inspired dance number and we’re happy for the central couple who are now rich in money and love.
Yet what sets Slumdog Millionaire above the ‘feel-good’ films we’re more accustomed to is that it truly earns its happy ending. The film takes us to the very brink of despair and before bringing us back to an uplifting conclusion. To that end it takes its structure from the greatest ‘feel-good’ film of all time – It’s a Wonderful Life.
Frank Capra’s masterpiece is guaranteed to give you a lift come its final, iconic ending. Yet it goes to some very dark places. In one episode of Friends Monica gives Phoebe is shocked to learn that not all films end happily (Rocky loses, Old Yeller is shot, E.T. leaves) and so Monica gives her a copy of the James Stewart starring masterpiece to cheer her up, only for it to actually drive her further down. ‘ I don’t know if I was happier when George Bailey destroyed the family business or Donna Reid cried, or when the mean pharmacist made his ear bleed’ she sarcastically tells her friend. ‘Didn’t you think the ending was pretty special?’ Monica retorts to which Phoebe confesses ‘I didn’t get to the end, I was too depressed. It just kept getting worse and worse!’
Part of the comedy in this instance comes from the idea that anyone could be depressed after watching It’s a Wonderful Life but this is a reminder that it does go to some dark places.
And Phoebe doesn’t even mention the worst part – that George Bailey actually gets to the point of suicide. He’s not just feeling a bit down, but is ready to throw himself off a bridge leaving his wife a widow, his young children fatherless and a crippling amount of debt behind. It takes us to the very brink of human despair before bringing us back. The night is darkest just before the dawn.
Much like Slumdog Millionaire it has a wonderful, feel-good ending and the reason both films work so well is because they earn it, by taking their characters to the darker recesses of humanity. Where the two films perhaps differ is that for some characters in Slumdog they don’t come back such dark places – notably the aforementioned blinded boy and Jamal’s brother who winds up being gunned down by a slum gang.
Yet this doesn’t stop the film ending on a wonderful feel-good note which actually refutes the claim that the famous advert was ‘mis-leading’. It is an uplifting, feel-good film and the claim that it was the ‘feel-good film of the decade’ is a fair one. It’s just somewhat odd that some don’t feel this way, simply because the sentiment and the joy is something the filmmakers actually worked hard to achieve.
Words: Phil Slatter