WHAT WOMEN WANT: VIVA THE CHICK FLICK!
The Chick Flick. What the hell is it? Scanner set out to write a feature on chick flicks, thinking we’re talking about Fried Green Tomatoes, Pretty Woman and Thelma and Louise. But in our survey of both men and women, we discovered that some folks consider Arnie classic The Terminator (woman’s choice) and David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (man’s choice) chick flicks.
So what is a chick flick? Flicks about chicks? Flicks with chicks? Or flicks that chicks dig?
Every moviegoer has their own opinion, but the traditional Chick Flick has a female lead, usually dealing with family relationships or a conflicted romance, who works through her emotional issues to emerge a stronger, better person. This is the real happy ending, which overrides what may appear to be a sad ending, like Leonardo DiCaprio freezing to death in the icy Atlantic at the end of Titanic (1997), or Thelma and Louise (1991) sailing off into the Grand Canyon. Rose (Kate Winslet) learned she didn’t have to do what her mother and fiancé told her to and could stand on her own two feet. Louise (Susan Sarandon) learned there was more to life than being a neat freak and Thelma (Geena Davis) learned not only that she didn’t have to put up with her arse of a husband, but there were men (Brad Pitt in his first major role) who could show a girl just how much fun she could have with her clothes off, even if they couldn’t be trusted with her wad of cash.
While the chick flick really came into its own in the mid 80s, the first true chick flick was also the first true blockbuster: Gone With the Wind (1939), whose legions of fans insist is the greatest movie ever made. Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) was beautiful, wilful, scheming and both won and lost the dashing Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). Impeccably shot against the blood-red background of the American Civil War, her struggles to keep her family alive while barely out of her teens, won hearts the world over. Adjusted for inflation, it stands as the highest grossing movie of all time. (Unadjusted, the title goes to Titanic.)
Casablanca (1942), set in Morocco during WWII, cleverly intertwined a tale of political espionage with a love triangle between Humphrey Bogart (his 47th film, but first romantic lead!), Ingrid Bergman and Paul Heinreid, wooing both men and women into theatres. But it was the women who paid to see the Rick tell Ilsa, “We’ll always have Paris,” as he convinces her to stay with her husband, Victor Laszlo, the leader of the French Resistance, that brought in the real box office. A chick flick? Depends who you ask.
The 50s saw the advent of ‘the women’s film,’ not quite the modern day chick flick, but films aimed specifically at a female audience with melodramatic plots designed to appeal more to women’s emotions than men’s love of action. Director Douglas Sirk was the master of the genre with his classics All That Heaven Allows (1955), Written on the Wind (1956), and Imitation of Life (1959). Todd Haynes resurrected his lush style and conflicted woman in the glorious 2002 tearjerker, Far From Heaven, which found perfect 50s housewife Julianne Moore’s life falling apart as she discovers her husband (Dennis Quaid) is gay and her friends and neighbours turn against her when she forms a friendship with the ‘coloured’ gardener (Dennis Haysbert).
Immersed in civil rights, anti-war protests and the growing women’s liberation movement, the 60s yielded very few chick flicks, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Camelot and Funny Girl (Barbra Streisand’s acting debut) being notable exceptions. However, the epic saga Doctor Zhivago (1965) which found star crossed lovers Julie Christie and Omar Sharif criss-crossing frozen Russia during the revolution has become a chick flick standard.
Love Story was the first modern chick flick. The tragic saga of Oliver (Ryan O’Neal) and Jennifer (Ali MacGraw), rich boy – poor girl fall in love and overcome everything to be together only to have her die of leukaemia – was the highest grossing film of 1970. Jennifer was stroppy and clever, a woman with more on her mind than catching a husband, but still willing to do what it takes to hold onto her man, and women of all ages melted as she whispered to the errant Ollie, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Suddenly, Hollywood couldn’t produce woman-oriented films fast enough: The Way We Were (1973), The Goodbye Girl (1977), Turning Point (1977), Grease (1978), Annie Hall (1977), A Star is Born (1976) and The Rose (1979), all classics. Streisand and Bette Midler emerged as a new breed of actress – adored by women, but frequently loathed by men.
In the 80s, the chick flick became a true Hollywood genre with numerous subcategories: the art-house flick (spearheaded by Merchant & Ivory with Room With a View, 1985), teen chick flicks (Pretty in Pink, 1986); the talky flick with virtually no action but lots of spiritual growth (Beaches, 1988, Steel Magnolias and Shirley Valentine, 1989); working girls (9 to 5, 1980, Flashdance, 1983, and Working Girl, 1988); and of course, plenty of romances (Dirty Dancing and Moonstruck, 1987, and Meg Ryan’s career-making When Harry Met Sally, 1989).
The 90s arrived with a one-two punch: Ghost (with Demi Moore) and Pretty Woman (which launched Julia Roberts) placing #2 and #4 in the box office that year. Since then the chick flick is has been a studio staple as well as an indy mainstay, with young women directors like Nia Vardolos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, 2002) and Patricia Cardoso (Real Women Have Curves, 2002) making their breakthrough with small chick flicks that translated into big box office returns, especially since chick flicks rarely rely on expensive special effects or blowing things up.
Upbeat and positive, with a life-affirming message, the chick flick is here to stay. While frequently criticised by both men and women as formulaic, silly and inconsequential, or simply too chatty, girl’s-night-in wouldn’t be complete without a couple of chick flicks on DVD – hair curlers: optional.
I’d rather chew my leg off than see:
Film critic Rod Johns wrote, “Any guy trapped into seeing 13 Going On 30, unless they are truly, madly, deeply in love or irresistible sexual bribery is involved, might seriously consider chewing his leg off.” We surveyed our male writers and a few friends and asked which chick flicks made them feel this way.1. The Wedding Planner – universally hated 2. Titanic 3. How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days 4. Beaches 5. Maid in Manhattan 6. Love Story 7. The Way We Were 8. Jersey Girl 9. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood 10. Sleepless in Seattle Dishonourable mention: Dirty Dancing
Chick Flicks Men Love (their definition of a chick flick, not ours)1. Muriel’s Wedding 2. Thelma & Louise 3. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape 4. Josie & the Pussycats 5. Annie Hall 6. Bridget Jones’s Diary 7. Serendipity 8. Love, Actually 9. The Princess Bride 10. Shakespeare in Love Honourable mention: Wild at Heart
If she’s in it, it’s probably a chick flick.Jennifer Lopez Kate Hudson Meg Ryan Barbra Streisand Julia Roberts Gwyneth Paltrow Sandra Bullock Bette Midler Emma Thompson