We want love, actually

The happy ending - Kate Gardner wonders why feature films are ditching the feel-good moment as the c

These days, any film that concludes on a positive note is accused of being "Hollywood-ised", as if happiness were just not realistic. The preferred style of ending is non-committal, as exemplified by the cult hit Donnie Darko (2001). Given a chance to relive his past few months, the disaffected youth Donnie gives his life so that those he cares about can have happiness. He dies, but for positive reasons, which leaves one very confused.

Then there's The Good Girl (2002), starring Jennifer Aniston. Given that the film is a remake of Brief Encounter, the ending shouldn't have been a surprise, but at least the 1945 classic featured a husband worth returning to. Aniston's character has a pig of a husband, and my girlfriends and I were egging her on to leave him as well as her depressive lover. There really could not have been a more ghastly ending than her returning to a loveless union, whether or not she was doing "the right thing".

The same goes for mainstream movies. Cast Away (2000) was rendered "believable" by its almost cruel ending. When Tom Hanks's character finally returns home after spending years stranded on an island dreaming of seeing his wife again, what has happened? She's remarried and won't leave the new man, even for her "one true love". He does meet another woman but, as the credits roll, he's still on his tod, walking down an empty highway. It's not happy and it's not sad, and that's unsettling.

Likewise, the king of romantic comedy, Richard Curtis, seems to have abandoned his sugar-coated zeitgeist in his directorial debut, Love Actually (2003). Although most of the good-lookers - such as Hugh Grant and Colin Firth - find lurve, the film ends with the grim break-up of the pair played by Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman. Their awkward airport rendezvous undermines the upbeat spirit of the film.

If even the blessed Curtis can't give us optimism, must we resign ourselves to the unfashionability of the happy ending? It's as if It's a Wonderful Life has been consigned to cinematic history. But is the happy ending so unreal? And anyway, isn't cinema meant to be about escapism? It's a sad day when only children's films and simplistic comedies allow you to leave the cinema smiling.