Continuing on with Part II of my reviews of romantic comedy films featuring two of my favorite things in the whole world: 1) writers and 2) Brits.
Because why watch one Scottish rom-com about writers starring a Doctor Who actor when you can watch two?
Thankfully, Netflix knows me well and was quick to suggest Not Another Happy Ending. At first glance, it looks like a rather quirky indie film that should star Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and be produced by Hello Giggles.
Which isn’t far off. There’s just a little more angst, and a plot that’s a bit all over the place.
It’s a hot mess, but Karen Gillan is rather likable and relatable, which in turn made the film enjoyable.
Not Another Happy Ending (2013)
Starring Karen Gillan (Doctor Who!), Stanley Weber, Iain de Caestecker (Agents of SHIELD!), Amy Manson, and Henry Ian Cusick (LOST!).
As a writer of unpublished books, Not Another Happy Ending begins as a wish-fulfillment fantasy. Editor Tom Duvall (Stanley Webber) has decided to take a risk and publish Jane Lockhart’s (Karen Gillan) first novel. Jane, a writer who dresses an awful lot like Johnny Depp in Benny & Joon (which I feel is how all writers actually would prefer to dress–at least I would), is of course thrilled at this.
Jane: So many rejections, and I have a board…
Tom: You have a board?
Jane: Of rejections letters. I call it my board of pain.
Tom: Well, that’s completely normal.
Cue Montage Number One: Jane and Tom spend quite a bit of time together editing Jane’s book, which causes Jane to fall for Tom. Which is a bad idea. Because Tom is Jane’s editor, not her boyfriend.
The rosy glasses of infatuation are thrown off when Jane discovers Tom has published her novel under a completely different title than she had wanted.
“Happy Ending? What happened to The Endless Anguish of My Father?”
Which leads us into the overall premise of the film: Jane’s contract with Tom is for two books. She agrees to promote Book 1 and to write Book 2 but promises that once Book 2 is published, she will leave him for a new editor.
Cue Montage Number Two: Happy Ending becomes a bestseller. Jane begins dating screenwriter Willie (Henry Ian Cusick). Her book is optioned for a movie written by said boyfriend!screenwriter. She’s reunited with her dad—the man who abandoned her and became her muse—and soon she’s about to start the final chapter of her second book.
And now we can actually get on with the story.
The movie has a lot going on:
1. Jane’s Blocked: Jane struggles to complete her second novel. This results in the arrival of Darsie (Amy Manson), Jane’s protagonist and a figment of Jane’s imagination who follows her around and analyzes Jane’s inability to write.
Darsie: I don’t want to end up unhappy.
Jane: It’s not that easy. You don’t really get to choose your ending, it has to follow from what came before. Or it doesn’t feel true.
2. Tom’s Broke: The only thing keeping Tom in business is his rather lucky break with Jane Lockhart. He becomes desperate for her to complete her novel, and because her first novel was based on her sad childhood, Tom believes the only way Jane can write is if she’s depressed, which he sets out to do.
Roddy: The trick is not simply to upset her, you have to get her in the right mood. It’s a special kind of misery you want, a melancholy. The right dose of dissociation and alienation that’s the source of every artist’s creativity. [Hands Tom a book] Its like drain unblocker for novelists.
Tom: Keats? John Keats? Your plan involves actual poetry?
3. The Redemption of Jane’s Father: Jane’s success leads her father to find her again, and although Jane still harbors hurt feelings and mistrust—her novel is about her father abandoning her as a child, after all—the two try to reconcile and get to know each other again.
4. The Tom/Jane/Willie Love Triangle: Jane is in love with Tom but is dating/living with Willie. In true rom-com fashion Willie is the loser-boyfriend trying to make a buck off his girlfriend’s success, which is made obvious by his total lack of disregard for the integrity of her novel.
Told you it was a hot mess.
I still really liked it, though.
I liked Jane. I liked her dad. I liked how the story was about a writer working on her second novel. I liked how also how the novels themselves weren’t the focus of the story but rather the author’s life. This isn’t Stranger Than Fiction or Alex & Emma—this is about the day-to-day facts of life. Writers don’t completely cloister themselves away so that they can create. They have lives, messy lives, full of distractions.
I also liked the film’s treatment of Jane’s inspiration: the worship of her pain.
Here’s the thing. You go to some dark places when you write. You bring out stuff most people prefer to keep locked up…
I know what it feels like to worship your pain. Every life has pain of one kind or another, and while some people are able to shake off that pain, I find myself often carrying it with me. And sometimes that pain becomes more comfortable in its familiarity. Sometimes the pain is the only way we define ourselves.
Throughout the film, Jane is defined by her pain. It is her muse, but I love how Jane’s writing is her catharsis. The important people in her life—all men, actually—identify Jane with her pain and her relationships struggle because of it. Her father finds it difficult to earn her trust. Tom can’t measure up. Willie is condescending and treats her not as a partner but as a child.
Naively, Jane is surprised that her book is so obviously autobiographical to these three men. What I love about this story is that Jane matures and realizes she doesn’t have to hold on to that pain, to that one traumatizing experience, to be a writer or even to be who she really is.
You don’t have to be miserable to write, you do it because you have to—because it gnaws away at your insides if you try to ignore it. Because if you don’t write, then you might as well be dead.
Not Another Happy Ending is not without its problems, but it is still a fun film to watch, and I think writers—especially those of us still working on getting published—would find it relatable, if a little, as I said before, wish-fulfillment.
One Final Thought: Iain de Caestecker as Roddy the English teacher/Tom’s assistant is a scene stealer. If Robin Williams’ John Keating in The Dead Poet’s Society is the type of teacher English teachers all secretly aspire to be, Roddy is who we actually become.
Tom: So, how do we make someone completely, totally miserable?
Rowdy: Why are you asking me? I dedicated the last ten years to encouraging young minds, planting hope and aspiration—BENSON! Put that away, stand in the corner, and face the wall!
(Beat) Okay, maybe I’ve some experience in the field.
I mean, did you know that William Wordsworth was the first Romantic to use a MacBook Pro?
Not Another Happy Ending gets 5 out of 10 from me. 7 out of 10 for the soundtrack—the ultra pop “How We Met (Cherry Pie)” was stuck in my head for weeks. Iain de Caestecker gets all the gold stars for being delightful. Karen Gillan gets all my love—Not Another Happy Ending helped soothe the pain of missing Selfie. (Gone too soon.) And the wardrobe department gets a high five and a request for Jane’s suits.