Thursday, April 10, 2008

What makes a good chick flick?

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.


Kimber Chin said...

Oh, I am SO with you about the leads trying to break up an engagement/marriage. Mean, simply mean and who wants to watch a movie about mean people?

I find many chickflicks too fast and noisy for me. The joke a minute syndrome. Give me a long, lustful gaze across a crowded room. Or a quiet moment between the two leads.

Like in You Got Mail when the heroine (I think it was the heroine) is sitting at the coffee shop waiting. Would the hero go in? Will he walk on by? I got anxious. There was time to care.

Leah Braemel said...

You've named all my favorite movies, Margaret!

Have you seen IQ (Meg Ryan and Tim Robbins, with Walter Matthau as Einstein, Meg's uncle?)from a few years back? Another one that is where the leads are 'grown up' and the supporting cast is a little off the wall. It's got some lovely moments.

nelsa said...

You have incredibly good taste in movies! Why am I not surprised that you can zero in on the movies with the best romantic conflict around? Hollywood is in desperate need for another good rom/com. But the lack of them just goes to show how these two genres (romance and comedy) are the most difficult to do individually much less in combination. So many things to juggle...

My teenage daughter is currently up to almost 300 movie titles on her must see list (seriously, she has a notebook with all the movies she wants to see). I'm so jealous that she gets to experience movies like Sabrina (the original with Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn - not the awful remake with Harrison Ford)for the first time. When I read your post I couldn't believe I'd forgotten to recommend While You Were Sleeping to her as well. One of the best rom/com's ever. Love Sandra Bullock, Love Bill Pullman and love the supporting cast family.

I'm feeling the need to go rent a few DVD's this weekend...

Margaret Moore said...

I've seen IQ once, but don't really remember it. I think I have a problem with Meg Ryan -- although I also love FRENCH KISS. But then I am a sucker for Kevin Kline.

And if there's a list, I really hope IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT is on it. That's a movie that's really stood the test of time. I get a kick out of it every time.

MaryF said...

I agree with your choices and I'll add Two Weeks Notice. It's kind of a flip on BJD, in that Hugh Grant's character is the one who matures over time and Sandra Bullock's character is mature.

While I enjoyed PS I LOVE YOU, I don't think it was great, and again like you, I don't like people breaking off an engagement at the last minute.