Losing is winning
Not all happy endings are about getting what you want.
The ending of the 2000 cheerleader movie Bring It On was a complete surprise, and a satisfying one. In most movies about competitions there is a clear audience favourite, usually the underdog, the scrawny David who beats the muscular and often evil Goliath. In Bring It On the situation was not as clear cut.
“Our” team was a group of privileged girls who were used to winning in the Cheerleading Finals but when new captain Torrance Shipman (Kirsten Dunst) takes over, she learns that the reason they had won so many trophies was because their former captain had had no qualms about cheating.
Her team, The Toros, had been stealing routines from an inner city team, the Clovers. Torrance is now determined to lead her team to victory the right way which means creating new routines and working harder than ever.
In the finals, the Toros and the Clovers finally face off, each giving the performance of a lifetime. The Clovers win.
When the boy Torrance likes asks her how it feels to come in second, she grins and says: “It feels like first.”
This was a fantastic ending because until we got it we did not know that was exactly the ending we wanted. The audience had been, after all, rooting for both teams and did not want either of them to be the loser.
But why does not winning imply losing? Certainly we are conditioned to think in this manner; that winning is all that counts, but as Bring It On showed, sometimes it can be just as great not to get what we want.
Here are some more examples of films that give “losers” a happy ending.
It’s A Wonderful Life
A classic among classics, this 1946 Christmas favourite is the story of George Bailey, a young man who dreams of leaving the little town he grew up in.
Fate has other plans for him and every time it looks like he might be able to get away, even for a little while, some emergency comes up and he has to change his plans.
We feel sorry for George, who is a victim of his own good heart.
The emergencies are often things he could choose to ignore, but he is kind and generous and willingly sacrifices himself to help others.
The constant disappointments do take their toll over time and George becomes depressed believing that his whole life has come to nothing.
It takes the help of an angel to show George exactly how far he has gone – and taken others – by staying right where he is.
Not getting your dearest wish already goes against the American dream, and perhaps that is why the extraordinary and inspirational American football film, Rudy, gets overlooked.
It is about a boy who wants more than anything to play for his university team.
The part of Rudy is played by Sean Astin, and those who remember him as Sam in The Lord Of The Rings can see right away what the problem is.
On the field Rudy does remind one of a hobbit among Orcs, with about as much chance of beating them in a game where brute strength is essential.
There is no miracle, there is no surprise, Rudy is barely allowed to play, let alone score, yet becomes the team’s most valued player.
My Best Friend’s Wedding
Julia Roberts’ character Julianne has finally decided that she is in love with her best friend and wants to marry him. Unfortunately, he is engaged to someone else.
She fails at splitting up the happy couple, she does not get her man, but it is at her lowest point that Julianne realises, there is room for more than one best friend in her life.
Little Miss Sunshine
If any of you bet that I could not get through the year without mentioning Little Miss Sunshine at least one more time, you’re welcome.
Among the best movies of all time, Little Miss Sunshine is about a little girl who travels cross country to be in a beauty pageant.
Not only does she lose the pageant, she loses spectacularly and in the funniest, most uplifting way imaginable.
You’ve Got Mail
Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) owns a little bookstore in New York City. It used to be her mother’s and Kathleen practically grew up in it.
In comes the enemy of small shops everywhere – the superstore – offering longer hours, a bigger selection and better prices.
The super bookstore is being opened by super businessman Joe Fox (Tom Hanks).
When he falls in love with Kathleen we hope that this means he will step away from the fight and let her little store survive. He doesn’t and it doesn’t, and despite this Kathleen ends up with a different happily ever after.
Muriel (Toni Collette) is a loser. Even her own family doesn’t like her much.
Unlike her pretty and confident chums, Muriel is big and awkward and has the personality of a boiled potato. Girls her age are boy crazy and their big dream of a beautiful wedding somehow becomes Muriel’s dream as well.
When Muriel finally makes a friend (Rachel Griffiths) it changes her life but not her dream.
Unlike the protagonists of other films on this list, to Muriel’s great misfortune her wish comes true and she has the perfect wedding to a handsome man.
By the time she realises her mistake, Muriel has lost a lot, some of it irrevocably. Sadder and wiser, Muriel finds the courage to ask for and get what really matters.