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Cliff Notes for Chick Flicks

March 3, 2009

Ever wonder what your wife is talking about when she mentions “that scene” from When Harry Met Sally? Or why your female co-workers start giggling when they refer to Bob in cubicle 8 as “Mr. Big”? Do you feel you’re missing out on some cornerstone of pop culture, but just can’t bring yourself to sit through all those tear-jerkers with a box of Kleenex and a carton of Jamoca Almond Fudge?

Well fear no more, because we’ve done the couch work for you – with this quick reference guide you’ll never again be left scratching your head during a heated Julia Roberts/ Sandra Bullock debate.

The Romantic Comedy, or Rom-Com, is the key sub-genre of the chick flick. Women love them because they always have happy endings and make us laugh, even if first they make us cry.  To truly pass yourself off as knowledgeable, you have to know the Meg Ryan TrifectaWhen Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and You’ve Got Mail.  Whatever you do, don’t confuse Billy Crystal for Tom Hanks – it’s the surest way for a chick to spot a cheat.  Crystal plays the Harry to Ryan’s Sally, in a story about two people who ride-share on the drive from Chicago to New York after college, can’t stand one another, meet again years later, become friends, and eventually fall in love. If a girl references When Harry Met Sally on the first date, don’t expect to score right away – she’s interested in being friends first.  It also means she knows how to fake an orgasm.  Keywords to know: Casablanca, “Surrey with a Fringe on Top,” New Year’s Eve.

If you’re not in it for the long haul, you’re probably better off with a girl who prefers Hanks. The title Sleepless in Seattle comes from the radio show the son of Hanks’s character calls for advice on getting his dad laid.  Meg Ryan happens to hear the program (despite living on the other side of the country), and basically falls in love with the widowed Hanks, just from the sound of his voice. Eventually they meet at the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day.  Heavy emphasis on kismet and taking chances.  Make a point of mentioning that you thought Bill Pullman was better in While You Were Sleeping.

In the days before eHarmony and, You’ve Got Mail was the girl’s anthem for finding love online. Despite being professional rivals who hate each other, Hanks and Ryan fall in love via the anonymity of e-mail.  Hanks is the first to discover the truth, and tries to change Ryan’s real-life opinion of him.  Warning: as much as we root for the two to get together in the end, if a woman found out that the online guy she loved was really the man who put her out of business, and he knew the truth but didn’t tell her, she’d be pretty pissed.  Bonus Trivia: You’ve Got Mail is a remake of The Shop Around the Corner starring Jimmy Stewart.

Other important couplings in the rom-com world:

*In Pretty Woman Julia Roberts plays a prostitute and Richard Gere ‘rescues’ her, so even though the fact that he’s paying for sex makes him mildly creepy, no one judges.  Note: This movie is not an acceptable excuse for hiring hookers.

*Molly Ringwald gets together with Andrew McCarthy in Pretty in Pink, but almost everyone agrees she should have ended up with Duckie the awkward geek played by Jon Cryer. If the movie was remade today, she probably would.

*Standing outside a girl’s window holding a stereo that’s playing Peter Gabriel’s ‘In Your Eyes’ ought to melt the hardest of hearts – just remember that John Cusack did it first in Say Anything… to win over Ione Skye.

*Repeat after me: Hugh Grant + Andi McDowell = Four Weddings and a Funeral.  Hugh Grant + Julia Roberts = Notting Hill.  Hugh Grant + Sandra Bullock = Two Weeks Notice.  These movies are not interchangeable.  Likewise, Hugh Grant and Colin Firth are not interchangeable, no matter what you’d like to think.  Colin Firth never plays an asshole, except when he’s Mr. Darcy, who’s just misunderstood. This is important: that performance, in the 1995 BBC miniseries of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, is what women are referring to when they discuss Colin Firth in a wet shirt.

After you familiarize yourself with the romantic comedy genre, study the Fashion Films. These glamor movies are not about plot – they’re all about the clothes, and sometimes the sex.  They frequently feature radical make-overs and romance is a typical subplot.  Some of these costumed dramedys are based off of Chick Lit, equally dangerous waters for the average dude to tread, but knowing which fashion films started their lives as modern romance novels can make you seem educated.

The Devil Wears Prada is pretty tame as far as chick flicks go; anyone who’s ever been an assistant to the boss from hell can sympathize with Anne Hathaway’s struggle to hold on to her soul at a top fashion magazine.  Legally Blonde and Clueless are slightly more substantial; while the clothes certainly make statements, these two tales about blondes on top straddle the line between chick flick and mainstream comedy due to their twists on old stereotypes.  It’s okay, guys, you don’t have to be embarrassed to admit you love them, we understand.

Sex and the City, though coming from a television series, started its life as a novel by Candace Bushnell.  The movie is really an excuse for the four actresses to get into those outrageous outfits again, as well as redeem Chris Noth’s “Mr. Big,” the one true love of Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw.  The nickname is not a commentary on his manliness, guys, but his status as the next Donald Trump, the ‘big’ man on campus.  Mr. Big definitely falls into the Bad Boy category – a common archetype for this model of movie.  Supposedly all women want them, but in reality, we usually don’t keep them because they don’t actually change like they do on screen.

Warning: no matter how much a woman oohs or aahs over the outfits in these movies it’s unlikely she would actually wear them, especially in public.

A close cousin of the Fashion Film is the Dance Movie, though there’s an emphasis on choreography. The biggest dance-slash-romance chick flick is Dirty Dancing. You may be put off by the love story, but the dancing in this movie is practically sex standing up, and the addition of subplot involving abortion makes it more substantial than the DVD cover might lead you to believe.  Patrick Swayze’s Johnny Castle, the resort’s dance instructor-slash-gigolo, spends much of the movie shirtless, which attracts the notice of mousy tourist Frances “Baby” Houseman, played by Jennifer Grey.  Remember: Nobody puts Baby in a corner.  (That line doesn’t make much sense in the movie either, but it’s highly quotable.)

Falling under the broad umbrella of the dance movie is Bring it On, in which Kirsten Dunst plays a cheerleader – hard to believe, isn’t it?  The routines they perform at the big championship are pretty amazing, and the movie has the scene-stealing Eliza Dushku as well as a host of scantily clad females.  Spoiler Alert: Dunst and the rest of the Rancho Carne Torros actually don’t win in the end, but Kirsten gets the guy, so all is well.

Also squashed in this category are movie musicals – but not all of them.  The musical is that strange beast which can appeal to all audiences, or only some.  Musical extravaganzas such as Chicago (dark, jazzy, about hot murderesses), Sweeny Todd (dark, starring Johnny Depp, about a serial killer), and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (dark, bizarre, about a transvestite and some other people) can appeal to a lust for blood and/or sex, whereas Mamma Mia (bright, campy, about a bride-to-be with three fathers), My Fair Lady (light, featuring Audrey Hepburn, about the transformation of an uncouth flower seller into a lady), and The Phantom of the Opera (moody, operatic, about a young singer and her stalker) appeal to a woman’s love of showtunes and/or epic drama.  Typically a dude-friendly musical can be identified by the red, white, and black color palette.

Gal Pal Pictures, the female equivalent of the Buddy Comedy are usually about female empowerment which is probably why they scare men unless they feature lots of bikini shots or cleavage-tees (see Charlie’s Angels.)  While a romance may sneak in there somewhere, the main focus of a gal pal pic is friendship.  Unlike the Rom-Com, however, Gal Pal Pics don’t require a happy ending, and can occasionally stray into Tear-Jerker territory.

The most iconic of the gal pal pictures is undoubtedly Thelma & Louise. Two women go on the run after one of them shoots a rapist in defense of her friend.  Rookie mistake: believing they live happily ever after.  Thelma and Louise are last seen driving off the edge of a cliff in their ’66 Thunderbird, but before they take off, Geena Davis gets to sex up a young Brad Pitt.

The First Wives Club is an excellent reminder to be careful when drafting that pre-nup.  Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler, and Diane Keaton get revenge on their ex-husbands after they’re all replaced with younger models.  Be afraid, be very afraid.  If the Gal Pal Pic teaches you anything, let it be that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.  Also, they travel in packs, so before you piss off a lady, check to see how many friends she’s got waiting to help plan her vengeance.

In Fried Green Tomatoes, Mary Stuart Masterson plays Idgy, a young girl who prefers boys’ clothes and never cares what people think.  She becomes attached to Mary Louise Parker’s Ruth, a girl once in love with Idgy’s older brother.  Though a romantic relationship between the two women is never stated in the movie, it’s heavily implied and reinforced by the actors involved.  So there you go: lesbians.  Sadly, Ruth dies in the end, leaving Idgy and a son behind.

Tear-Jerkers are the second most common type of chick flick after the Rom-Coms because supposedly real men don’t cry. Therefore, any movie which brings out the tissues must be aimed at women.  These are not ‘I’ve got something in my eye’ weepers, these films come before the flood.  It may seem like an obvious observation, but most Tear-Jerkers are marked by death. The love is always epic, but ultimately doomed – or at least injured.

Before Sleepless in Seattle, there was An Affair to Remember starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr.  Two people engaged to others meet on board a cruise ship and fall in love.  Uncertain if the encounter is more than a fling, they promise to meet on top of the Empire State Building six months later if they still feel the same way.  When Cary Grant gets stood up, he has a confrontation with Deborah Kerr in her apartment and nearly walks out on her – until he realizes that the reason she’s not getting up from the couch and slapping him across the face is that she’s paralyzed from the accident that occurred when she was on her way to meet him. Karma’s kind of a bitch, but at least she doesn’t die.

Love StoryGhost, and Titanic all end in tragedy.  Ali MacGraw’s Jennifer dies of leukemia in her husband’s arms, Patrick Swayze becomes the titular ‘Ghost’ after he’s gunned down during a botched mugging, and, of course, we all know that Kate Winslet ‘let go’ of Leonardo DiCaprio, sending him into the icy depths of the Atlantic. Love may mean ‘never having to say you’re sorry,’ according to Ryan O’Neal, but the three dead lovers sure do seem sorry to go.  Warning: Do not use Love Story as a justification for not apologizing when you’ve done something stupid.  Love means always having to say you’re sorry.

Just when you think all true love dies tragically, there’s The Notebook, which just suffers from Alzheimer’s.  Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling dated for a long time after making this movie about two Southern youngsters from different class backgrounds because the chemistry was just irresistible. Their characters do end up together and have children, until Allie forgets their life together and Noah has to sneak into a nursing home to remind her.  Bonus Trivia: James Marsden (Cyclops) plays the nice guy who doesn’t get the girl.  He does that a lot. (see Enchanted and Superman Returns)

It’s not just romantic love that suffers in the Tear-Jerker.  The bond between mother and daughter is stretched, and twisted, and wrung out until ultimately the mother outlives her child.  Such is the case in Terms of Endearment (cancer) and Steel Magnolias (diabetic coma).  Despite what Hollywood would have you believe, there are actually healthy mother-daughter relationships out there, but these films might give you insight as to why a woman hates her mother one moment, but defends her to you the next.  Don’t try and figure it out, just go with it and save yourself the grief.

The realm of the Chick Flick is wide and varied, and every chick has her own opinion of what movies should or should not be included on the list – and they’re more than willing to debate it with you.  At least with this guide, you stand a fighting chance.

-written for Starpulse

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Stephanie permalink
    March 4, 2009 11:16 am

    Brava! You did leave out Melanie Griffith in “Working Girl” with Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver. She was also in a remake of “Born Yesterday” as the Billie Holliday character. And, same vintage, Goldie Hawn–“screwball comedies” with the smart-dumb blondes. Of course, there are way too many chick flicks through the years to name all of them.

  2. Trish permalink
    March 9, 2009 4:27 pm

    Just found your blog in my links, and I have to say – word. This is a good guide.

    This could make for a very long book.

  3. RaiulBaztepo permalink
    March 28, 2009 2:23 pm

    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language ;)
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  4. April 7, 2009 3:42 pm

    Hello !!! ;)
    I am Piter Kokoniz. Just want to tell, that I like your blog very much!
    And want to ask you: is this blog your hobby?
    Sorry for my bad english:)

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