Ending Lessons From a Couple of Movies

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

So the other day I watched Pretty in Pink, the 1986 Molly Ringwald film, written by John Hughes.

Why was I, a thriller author, watching Pretty in Pink? Because of James Spader. I’m a Spader fan, and I had been listening to Rainn Wilson’s memoir, The Bassoon King. Wilson (who played Dwight Schrute on TV’s The Office) was talking about his odd upbringing and high school days, and made a passing reference to being around rich kids who were like James Spader in Pretty in Pink. I didn’t recall that Spader was in the film.

So I went to the library and got the DVD and watched it.

I can see why Molly Ringwald captured hearts back then. She’s adorable and spunky and irresistible. The movie …

… okay, here netiquette demands that I insert a ***SPOILER ALERT***. I will be talking about the ending in detail, so if you want to see the movie fresh, now’s the time to go pour yourself another cup of joe.

As I was saying, the movie is about a high school girl, Andie (Ringwald), who comes from the wrong side of the tracks. She’s in school with a lot of rich kids, who look down their imperious beaks at her. Chief among these privileged snoots is Steff (Spader) who can’t stand that Andie won’t give him a tumble. When Steff finds out his best friend Blane (Andrew McCarthy) likes Andie, he tries to shame him out of it.

Andie is attracted to Blane, which is a cause of serious heartache for Andie’s friend, “Duckie” (Jon Cryer). Duckie loves Andie with a passion, but Andie loves him only as a pal.

Perfect John Hughes formula, eh?

Prom is coming, and no one’s asked Andie. She doesn’t expect it. But of course Blane does, and Andie is in heaven. Duckie is in hell.

But then Steff steps up his campaign to break up Blane and Andie. He tells Blane he’s got to choose. If he insists on seeing Andie, they will no longer be friends.

Blane is conflicted, but decides to break it off with Andie. He doesn’t return her calls. When she corners him at school, he makes up a lame excuse about having invited someone else to the prom and that it slipped his mind. Andie doesn’t buy it, calls him a liar, and runs out in tears.

Prom night comes. Andie decides to take a pink dress and do some of her quirky design work on it. She gets all ready to go to the prom, alone. When her dad asks her why, she says “I just want to let them know they didn’t break me.”

She gets to the hotel but is scared to take the final step inside the ballroom. She looks up. And sees Duckie. He has also shown up alone.

They run into each others’ arms and enter the ballroom together.

Blane, who is also sans date, sees them. He gets up to go to her. Steff tries to stop him. Blane tells him off (finally).

Blane goes up to Andie and Duckie. He apologizes. He says he always believed in her, he just didn’t believe in himself. Then he says, “I love you,” kisses her on the cheek, and walks out.

Duckie, the noble friend, says, “If you don’t go to him now, I’m never gonna take you to another prom again. This is an incredibly romantic moment, and you’re ruining it for me.”

Andie thanks him, runs out to the parking lot. She and Blane kiss in the rain.

The End.

Okay, here’s where it gets interesting. I felt the ending was not right. I thought:

a) Andie shouldn’t go running after Blane. He acted like a jerk. He gave her up over a measly threat from James Spader! Come on! He deserved to suffer for being so spineless.

b) Andie running after him so quickly brought her down in my estimation. She owed her loyal friend at least a dance.

c) Duckie deserved that dance, seeing as how he saved Andie’s dignity by walking into the prom with her.

d) The dialogue line “I love you” is almost always manipulative and lazy (see The Art of War for Writers, Chapter 39).

So as I’m thinking all that, I look at the Special Features menu on the DVD and see that there is a segment on “the original ending.”

And guess what? My instincts, and indeed those of John Hughes himself, were correct. In the ending that was in the script and which they shot, Andie and Duckie do dance together and then it fades out.

Which was, as they say, justice. But apparently test audiences weren’t so happy. A majority said they wanted the cute girl to end up with the cute guy!

An internal battle broke out over the ending. Most of the creative team wanted it to stay as shot, but the suits with the purse strings feared a negative audience reaction. Guess who won that fight?

So six months after the movie had wrapped, they got the cast back together to film the ending that’s in the movie.

And got negative reaction anyway! Even now, people are split on the ending. The stars (Ringwald, McCarthy, and Cryer) who were being interviewed on the DVD (these interview were filmed in 2006, twenty years after the release) talked about the controversy. Cryer remembered feeling robbed when they changed things. And he says people still come up to him, sometimes quite livid, insisting Andie and Duckie should be together at the end!

Why would they think that? Simply this: Justice was not served!

But, the other side insists, there was no sexual chemistry between Duckie and Andie. Molly Ringwald herself is of that opinion.

Ah, but there was another way it could have gone!  Andie and Duckie enjoy the prom together, then Duckie tells Andie to go to Blane. And when she goes to Blane it shouldn’t be to fall into his arms. Let it be left that they may end up together, so long as Blane proves he’s not shallow. The ending can therefore be hopeful, but not wrapped up in a pretty pink bow.

What’s the lesson here?

a) Don’t listen to the suits.

b) The best endings are about justice, not necessarily about the cuties getting together. Exhibit A: the most famous ending of all time, Does Rick end up with Ilsa? No! But justice is done, and Rick does gain “a beautiful friendship.”

Next, I watched Big Jake, a later John Wayne western. I watched Big Jake to balance out Pretty in Pink and restore order to the universe.

Big Jake is a straightforward rescue plot. Jake McCandles (Wayne) learns his grandson has been kidnapped for ransom. With his two sons, an Indian friend, and a loyal dog named Dog, McCandles sets out to get the boy back.

Dog is trained to attack bad guys when prompted by the command, “Dog!” (John Wayne films are not complex). There’s a big showdown between Wayne’s group and the bad guys, one of whom wields a machete. Dog, wounded by a gunshot, nevertheless puts the bite on the machete guy. There’s a struggle. Machete guy breaks free, and hacks the heroic Dog to death!

Here’s my lesson from Big Jake: Don’t kill the dog!

And those are my random thoughts about two ending in two films.

So now it’s your turn: Do you have any lessons you draw from disappointing endings?

9+

The Joy of Writing Whatever the Heck You Want

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

One of the biggest influences on my desire to write was the late, great Ray Bradbury. I’ve written before about meeting him, and how The Illustrated Man blew me away in junior high. In high school I read Fahrenheit 451, which is of course a classic of the dystopian genre.

I love what Bradbury said in an interview about his reason for writing the book. “I wasn’t trying to predict the future. I was trying to prevent it.”

That, it seems to me, is the highest and best use of dystopian fiction. It’s a warning. It’s a prophet crying in the wilderness. And the nice thing is that the prophet can employ the steely voice of a John the Baptist, or the sly wink of a Jonathan Swift.

I don’t specialize in speculative fiction (though I suppose you could call my zombie legal thrillers, written as K. Bennett, speculative. At least I think most lawyers in Los Angeles are not zombies, but I need to check on that). But I recently found myself pounding out a short story and having a lot of fun doing it.

The story idea had its genesis in Rogue One, the new film in the Stars Wars milieu. The most striking part of the film is the meaty supporting performance by Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. Striking, of course, because Peter Cushing has been dead since 1994. In view of his deceased status, he really brings it Rogue One!

Of course, Mr. Cushing is actually realized courtesy of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI). The effect is stunningly effective. Which got me thinking about the possibilities here. What if, sometime in the future, someone wanted to make a film with Cary Grant, or Clark Gable, or Bette Davis? Future technologies will not only make this possible, but easy.

Then I thought about the discussions we’ve had here at TKZ recently about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the prospect of machines getting into the writing game.

So the idea came to me: in the not too distant future, a movie studio is working on a Western starring John Wayne and Lee Marvin, featuring Jane Russell, Andy Devine, Chill Wills, and Victor McLaglen. The technology provides holographic imagery along with AI functionality. What if …

Well, I’ll leave the What if for you readers, because that’s what my new Kindle short story, JOHN WAYNE’S REVENGE, is about. It’s FREE through Thursday. (For those who don’t have a Kindle device, remember you can download a free Kindle app to your phone or tablet or computer, and enjoy Kindle books that way.)

One of the nice things about short fiction is that you can get an idea and just start hitting the keys to see what happens. It’s fun. You can write whatever the heck you want to, without a huge expenditure of time.

That was Bradbury’s practice. He’d hop out of bed in the morning and just start capturing what was in that fertile imagination of his, whatever his writer’s mind had cooked up in the nightly dream world. Only later would he look at the pieces and figure out what was going on. He wrote with more pure joy than any other writer I know of.

So enjoy the story, on me. It’s an under ten-minute read, perfect for the waiting room at the doctor’s office, when you’re lunching by yourself, or after choosing the wrong line at the grocery store.

What if … 

So what have you written lately purely for the joy of it?   

8+