The Chick Flick: Causes and Cures

I was going to write about “chick flicks” when I realized I already had, on New Years Eve Day, no less.

But the remake of The Women brought up an interesting point: Does the original movie The Women qualify as a “chick flick”, and if so, how can it be so good?

The answers would be: Sort of. And that’s how.

The Women may be a prototype of sorts. It meets half my definition of chick flick needing to have women treat each other badly. But I would suggest that the ill treatment in The Women is different; they’re not, for the most part, pretending to be friends. There is a rivalry, and a moral ending–i.e., the guilty are punished and the good rewarded (sort of).

The other thing is that there’s no disease. What makes the modern “chick flick” execrable is the underlying theme that one only needs to be civil, decent and generous when someone’s life is on the line. (God, that’s almost masculine.) So, the disease is vital to the ending, wherein the characters who abuse each other can show how much they truly care.

It’s an appalling Hollywood trope that one heroic emotional gesture can make up for a life poorly lived, but life is, of course, much more about day-to-day choices. You don’t break a real relationship, nurtured daily for years, by missing one event–and you don’t repair a real relationship with one heroic gesture.

Ultimately, in the chick flick, one character is martyred and the other is made heroic by becoming a victim herself.

Confused? Consider Hilary and Jackie, my favorite whipping boy: Jackie treats Hilary horribly but when Jackie is shown to be a martyr (due to impending MS), Hilary takes the heroic action of forcing her husband to sleep with Jackie (?), and thereby martyrs herself–saving the relationship (with her sister; she gets pissed at her husband).

A lot of times, it should be noted, the whole thing makes no freakin’ sense at all. Hell, maybe never. (Beaches? Wind beneath my wings? Really?)

The Women poses the question to the main character: How much is your marriage worth? As catty as the characters are, the entire thing boils down to what one woman is willing to sacrifice for that relationship. This isn’t really about the heroine wallowing in her unfortunate circumstances.

The victimization part is key. That’s what turns the story of a modern “chick flick”. And it infects some modern romantic-comedies as well, which has turned the normally crowd-pleasing genre in to one more tilted to (certain kinds of) women. It’s particularly pernicious there; you essentially turn a staple of American cinema into a romance novel.

If the remake of The Women keeps the strength of the original characters, it will have done fairly well just on that.

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