There was an article in the paper today talking about the lack of popular chick flicks, specifically that there hasn't been one that was a hit since THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA. Why?
As a person who likes to go to the movies but doesn't care to see many of what passes for "chick flicks" or "women's films" today, I could offer some suggestions.
How about giving me mature adults? And I'm not referring to age.
In BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY, she's a bit ditzy, but she matures over the course of the movie. The publisher's a selfish cad, but Mark Darcy is mature.
In NOTTING HILL, both the main characters are grown-ups. The hero is in a very strange situation, but doesn't go completely silly. The zaniness comes from his best friend and his other friends and family when they realize who the heroine is.
Which brings me to really good secondary characters. I think any really good comedy has really good secondary characters -- funny, entertaining, interesting. A film that seems based solely on the lead couple alone, that suggests I should go simply because they're in it? That isn't going to get me there, which means any film with Kate Hudson and Matthew MacConaughey is pretty much out.
Spare me any film that features somebody trying to break up an engagement, like the soon-to-come MAID OF HONOR. That is a lousy thing for anybody to do, for whatever reason, but especially if the break-upper had the chance to have a relationship with the break-uppee and didn't pursue it. Oh, now my eyes are opened! the character implies.
Selfish fool, thinks I. Not appealing at all.
The best comedies also have some poignancy to them, because the conflict between the lead couple, whatever zaniness surrounds it, is really quite serious. I want realistic dilemmas, not just goofy situations.
Here are some more recent movies that would be called "chick flicks" that I think got it right:
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING: the heroine thinks she loves a guy she sees at the token booth. Then she convinces his family that they're engaged, only to fall for the brother.
What makes this movie work for me? In no small part, the family, and the fact that part of the heroine's yearning is for not just the guy, but for the sort of family he has, because she has no family herself. Also, the brother is truly upset by his growing feelings for the heroine.
RETURN TO ME: the heroine receives a heart transplant, from the hero's dead wife. You want poignant? Oh, baby! The scene of her grandfather praying in the hospital makes me weep every time. But the movie's very funny, too. The grandfather's buddies are great. In fact, I think it has one of the best mixes of serious and funny I've ever seen. Again, the conflict here is serious: the heroine feels tremendously guilty and fears the hero will hate her when he discovers the truth.
And of course, there's SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE. About a lonely widower. Doesn't sound like a barrel of laughs, but it's certainly got plenty -- the part where the guys talk about THE DIRTY DOZEN makes me grin every time. The heroine has her moments of ditz, but she's yearning for love and realizing she's settling for security, and nobody could accuse the hero of being immature.
I want stories that are more complicated than the Powers-That-Be in Hollywood seem to realize. They see only the surface goofiness of romantic comedies, so that's all they try to emulate. But for a romantic comedy to really work, I think it needs much more. I want heroines who aren't just cute zanies with good make-up and accessories. I want heroes who aren't overgrown children. I want serious conflicts beneath the surface silliness. I want to laugh, but I also want poignant. I can handle all that. Really.
And I don't think I'm alone.