I suppose it’s rare that one can watch a lengthy portion of a film and miss every shred of context.
Something that has angered me for years: the general perception of the ending to the musical Pippin. Wikipedia sums it up: “Pippin realizes that he has given up his extraordinary purpose for the simplest and most ordinary life of all, and he is finally a happy man,” which is precisely what the actresses I spoke to told me. But it seems quite obvious, especially given Fosse’s involvement in changing the text of the play, that the play actually ends sadly–that is, yes, Pippin “has given up his extraordinary purpose for the simplest and most ordinary life of all” because he finally backs down in the face of suicide. He ends up suffering that which most people must suffer, accepting less than their childhood dreams, and smiling all the meanwhile. And so he smiles, and audience exits happy. The more cynical ending is one in which Pippin’s son is displayed as the next victim of high hopes. It’s the most fucking depressing play I’ve ever seen, more tragic than any Shakespeare’s tragedies (his comedies are a different matter) because there is no justice, and at the very least, the characters suffer past the curtain’s fall.
So when I saw a bit of this film, Doris Day, dancing and singing with children, loving tiffs with her husband, old friends helping out the family…I thought, ah hah, this is precisely the sort of film I enjoy most: it has no plot, and everyone is happy throughout! I could watch something like that all day. No, this is not that at all, behind a mask of “comedy” it’s a film about a man who finally earns the prestige he’s craved his whole life, and he turns into a real shithead as a result, which leaves his wife in an unhappy position of having to bow to his whims while trying to also create an equal marriage–certainly, she’s a housewife, but she’s raising four children, has a keen decorating sense, and can sing, dance, and play the ukelele. She makes a comment that suggests all housewives have their special abilities, and their dreams.
And in the end, with the possibility of being made a fool of, and somewhat thwarting that by publishing a scathing criticism of himself, the husband finally returns to his wife, where we are to assume that when he says he’ll change, he means he’ll stop doing the things that he does well and enjoys, and put their lives back to his pre-fame, when he cared about other peoples feelings, and did not care for “names”–and we assume that the cab-driver who wants to be a playwright will be a perfect match for the actress sans morals who may or may not be lonely, we’re unsure based on everything handed to us. The plays ends with uncertainty–but is billed as an outrageous comedy, with a happy ending, a Doris Day ending. I’ve never been so depressed on this morning in my life!