So the fact that many people believe the classic romantic comedy is dying a slow death and that the dearth of successful chick flicks in 2011 is indicative of that trend is welcome news indeed.
Because when a movie sets out to manipulate me, my instinct is to resist. I grit my teeth and imagine a smarmy studio executive who has emotional manipulation down to a recipe: Take a serving of "terminal cancer" topped with a heaping dose of "love beating the odds" and a dash of "waxing poetic on shit being temporary and painful, but ultimately worth it" and finish it off with a scene of someone running barefoot in the rain ... and they know they've got me.
But I'm not such a cold-hearted cynic that I can't enjoy a meaningful drama about love and relationships -- or a genuinely funny comedy, for that matter. The problem is that most chick flicks are simply doing it wrong. Here are a few common chick flick ingredients and why they suck -- but also why they don't have to.
It sucks: The chicks are almost always impossibly skinny, beautiful, rich women with whom we mere mortals who struggle to pay our rent and get a little chubby from boozing too much around the holidays can never hope to relate. These idealized women make wry observations about the shiny, happy world around them, but their primary function is to look pretty. In fact, according to a study featured in The Onion's AV Club, men accounted for 70 percent of speaking roles in this year's biggest box office hits, and women were nearly three times more likely to strip down to their skivvies on screen.
But it doesn't have to:
Seriously, check out Bridesmaids. Its horrible title suggested Bride Wars-style bullshit about catty bitches gunning for the altar, but it was actually hilarious, thanks largely to the dorky appeal of star Kristin Wiig. In the opening scene, she sneaks out of bed to put on makeup before she wakes fuck buddy Jon Hamm, whose ridiculous good looks keep her responding to his booty calls even though he's a total douche. She also has loads of mixed feelings about her best friend getting married, and sometimes those feelings make her act like an awkward asshole. Because hey, life is awkward; life is not a shopping montage.
4. The dude who is everything
It sucks: Hooking up with the dude in a chick flick is pretty much the crowning achievement in the chick's life. Without him she is a lesser, weaker, sadder version of herself who inherently sucks more and eats way more ice cream while crying and watching The Maury Show (or maybe that's just me).
But it doesn't have to:
In the 2009 film Julie and Julia, based on blogger Julie Powell's attempt to cook her way through Julia Child's cookbook in a year, Powell's relationship with her husband becomes just as important as her self-discovery via cooking and eating pounds of butter, meat, and sugar every day. Even when the couple temporarily separates, Powell does not quit cooking but merely re-evaluates her priorities and decides to devote more time to her dude.
With the business of dude attainment and maintenance aside, this particular chick flick has more time to focus on Powell's attempt to deal with the disappointment and uncertainty facing everyone who has reached their late 20s and early 30s only to discover life did not turn out how they had hoped.
3. Girlfriends to the rescue!
It sucks: In most chick flicks, the girlfriends play a vital role in steering the chick toward happiness (which, of course, means toward the dude). Let's revisit Sex and the City for a minute. Each of the four women functions as a glamorous two-dimensional caricature -- Carrie the career girl; Samantha the cougar; Charlotte the conservative mommy; and Miranda the unhappy wife. In fact, their characters are so predictable and their dialogue so bland that in a review even I found overly dismissive, Roger Ebert says their "bubble-brained conversations" bored him to drink. Also, I'm pretty sure the most effective thing one of Carrie's friends does to snap her out of her post-breakup funk is poop her pants in public -- no lie.
But it doesn't have to:
The Craft is one of my guilty pleasures. Focusing on the bond between four teenage witches (yes, really), it is more than occasionally ridiculous. But it also revels in the down-and-dirty, hair-pulling, fuck-'em-up, cat-fight side of female friendship. While the role of the girlfriends in most chick flicks is to merely offer humorous (and plot-advancing) words of encouragement, each of the girlfriends in The Craft is a selfish bitch in her own right. And unlike normal bitchy high school girls, these chicks are armed with motherfucking magic, and they will not hesitate to use it to get what they want. (Seriously, watch this movie, and tell me it's not crazy fun.)