Monday, July 9, 2012

An Examination of Chick Flicks (Well, Good Ones, At Least)

I know that I come off as a little militant about the whole feminism thing. That, paired with my abiding love of fantasy and sci-fi, and the mild obsession with comics, means that for years I’ve scorned or pretended to scorn traditional feminine media. Well, no more. I am now coming out as a fan of chick flicks.

Well, good ones, at least.

There’s a problem inherent in the name “chick flick”. It implies that this is media only for women, and stigmatizes it for any men who might be interested. Now, this also presupposes that calling something “chick” anything is degrading because we devalue feminine things, but that’s pretty much accepted here, and not our problem at the moment. No, what I want to talk about is how we think of “chick flicks” as silly, romantic shlock for women. Things that no man can truly appreciate. And that, my friends, just isn’t true.

Name your favorite chick flick. All of you, the guys too. Now, think about that movie. Is it objectively good? If not, why do you like it? Are the characters compelling? Is the story well-structured and juicy? What makes this your favorite? And, more importantly, what makes this a chick flick?

Last night I had the extreme pleasure to discover that there is a film called The Decoy Bride that stars both David Tennant and Kelly MacDonald, set in the Outer Hebrides, and full of hijinks and mistaken identities. Obviously I watched it immediately, and had to apologize to my friends in the morning for the volume of my 3am cackling.

What made The Decoy Bride a chick flick? Well, for starters, the name connotes feminine things, like weddings, and furthermore, it refers specifically to a bride, which means that the protagonist is likely female. But is that enough to make it a chick flick?

No, probably not. As movies like Alien, Tomb Raider, and especially Terminator 2: Judgment Day (my favorite Terminator movie, if you hadn’t guessed) show us, it’s that having a female protagonist means jack in the battle of genre. It’s something else.

How about the fact that it’s set in and around a wedding? That could be the answer, except for the fact that lots of movies are set at weddings, and not all of them are chick flicks. My Big Fat Greek Wedding isn’t a chick flick, even though it is both about a wedding, and has a female protagonist. It’s a movie that everyone can enjoy, and is usually featured as a family comedy.

No, I’m pretty sure what makes The Decoy Bride a chick flick is the romance. To give a brief summary of the much funnier than I’m making it sound plot, Kelly MacDonald plays an unlucky in love Scottish woman, who returns home to a remote island, only for the island to be quickly taken over by a super-secretive celebrity wedding. There are hijinks, the bride runs off to hide from the paparazzi, and MacDonald is asked to be the decoy to wed David Tennant so the photographers will go away. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s pretty standard romantic comedy fare.

Except here’s the thing: the movie’s good. Like, really, really good, as evidenced by my comment above about the cackling. I had to shove my face in a pillow to stop from laughing so hard I cried. That’s a good movie.

So why do we keep thinking of chick flicks and romantic comedies as bad movies? Not only are romances pretty accessible to both genders (show me a man who did not cry during the first 15 minutes of Up and I will show you a liar), but they’re also an integral part of how we perceive the world. We build up the stories of love so that they become central to our understanding of how things work. Love makes the world go round. It’s such a common idea, we have clichés about it.

And comedies are just another way to tell an emotional story without resorting to physical aggression. They date back to Aristophanes, Shakespeare, and everyone else who ever tried to figure out how to make a happy ending more fun.

Then why the bad rap?

If I had to guess (and I do, since I brought this up), I’d say that our disdain for romantic comedies and chick flicks comes from a disdain for the overflowing of emotion. In these halcyon days of attempted gender equality and stunted emotional growth, anything that reminds us to feel is seen as lesser, unnecessarily tugging at the heartstrings, or, worst of all, silly.

That’s bull.

As human beings we need to feel, and we need to stop being ashamed of our emotions. So what if a movie like When Harry Met Sally makes me weepy at the end? It’s good that I can get up that much empathy for characters in a story. I’m human, they’re human, and my ability to care about them makes me a stronger person.

It’s time for us to stop with the hate and just admit that sometimes, we like to see a movie where the right people fall in love, where it makes us laugh, and where the bad guys lose.

It’s okay.

Also, you should totally watch this movie.

3 comments:

  1. If I had to guess (and I do, since I brought this up), I’d say that our disdain for romantic comedies and chick flicks comes from a disdain for the overflowing of emotion. In these halcyon days of attempted gender equality and stunted emotional growth, anything that reminds us to feel is seen as lesser, unnecessarily tugging at the heartstrings, or, worst of all, silly.

    It could also have to do with the fact that the female protagonists in chick flicks aren't usually all that well-rounded and make us think that all women are obsessed with finding a husband. :) But, then again, I like chick flicks a lot, so who am I to say?

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    Replies
    1. That's definitely a factor, yeah. And I really feel like there should be a support group for feminists who like chick flicks. A sort of "I love it but it's terrible for me!" circle of sharing.

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