The romantic chick flick: RIP

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The chick flick is dead; long live the female-led comedy.

It’s time to declare the death of the chick flick. The traditional boy meets girl romance has been conspicuously absent from our cinema screens recently. Scouring the list of summer blockbusters, there’s all the usual suspects: enough superheroes to save the world several times over, something that involves Zac Efron being shirtless – and yet no romance. This month’s The Other Woman probably comes closest, but romance is barely a footnote in the film, and star Cameron Diaz has spent almost every recent interview distancing the film from traditional chick flicks.

The Other Woman, Diaz argues, isn’t about love: it’s about friendship. More importantly, it’s about female friendship. Diaz commented, “This film lets people know that women can champion each other, they don’t have to be competitive. It’s about the way these women get through heartbreak and move forward. Sure, they take the low road for a second, but the story is all about their friendship.”

In these films, women dominate and men are pushed to the margins, and they don’t so much pass as smash the Bechdel test

Hollywood has looked a little different recently. Those who argued that Bridesmaids might herald a kind of revolution in the film world, finally making a space for mainstream comedies about women, are slowly but surely being proved right. Following on from the smash success of Bridesmaids, we’ve had last year’s fantastic The Heat and now The Other Woman. Three films might seem like a fairly limited revolution, but these films represent a pretty drastic break with previous Hollywood standards. In these films, women dominate and men are pushed to the margins, and they don’t so much pass as smash the Bechdel test.

The rise of the female comedy can be put down to a few factors. It may be that Hollywood has simply grown out of the overly saccharine, boy-meets-girl-then-there’s-some-kind-of-drama-oh-it’s-all-fine stage. The traditional romantic chick flick often bares little more than a passing resemblance to the lives of women today, and what’s more, many don’t want their lives to reflect this narrow representation of success, romantic or otherwise. In 2014, we’ve all stopped believing in the fairy-tale ending most of these films rigidly stick to.

Marriage and babies are far from a foregone conclusion for today’s women, and it’s time women on screen mirrored the more varied experiences of women in real life, as well as their more jaundiced attitude to relationships. Increasingly, roles more interesting and varied than ‘hot love interest’ are opening up for women. Amy Adams, Judie Dench, Meryl Streep – all were Oscar nominated this year for complex, three-dimensional female characters. However, there’s a much simpler, and more obvious reason behind the rise of the female-led comedy.

Hollywood kept churning out the same rom-com clichés and stereotypes until audiences just couldn’t be bothered anymore

Romantic chick flicks are increasingly mundane, inane and boring. They’re formulaic and they’re overdone. Hollywood kept churning out the same tired clichés and lazy stereotypes until audiences just couldn’t be bothered anymore. Never mind that the representations of women were often borderline offensive – a trip to the cinema is a pretty expensive night out. The markup on popcorn must be astronomical, so why part with that much cash to see a film you’ve already seen, in some version or other, at least 50 times before?

Perhaps blame the ultimate chick flick, The Notebook. Since its 2004 release, the market has become saturated with Nicholas Sparks adaptations, in which you could probably make a stab at a good guess at what is going to happen, whilst knowing absolutely nothing about the film. Probably without actually knowing the title. We’ve had Dear John, Safe Haven, The Last Song, The Lucky One – each one more schmaltzy and predictable than the last.

The past couple of years have also brought us the atrocious Valentine’s Day (which one critic described as “rock bottom for film”) and the – if possible – even worse New Year’s Eve (described as “a towering inferno of awfulness”). When romantic chick flicks have become this soul destroying, it should be no surprise that audiences are responding so well to comedies in which woman are leads. Films such as Bridesmaids and The Heat are fresh, funny and don’t patronise their audiences. They don’t rely on lazy stereotypes and offer genuine wit alongside developed characters, rather than caricatures obsessed with shoes and shopping.

More on the Bechdel test: Is the system fundamentally misguided?

the heat

These films also question the legitimacy of defining films in terms of gender. Men admit to enjoying The Heat, and I know several male friends that also admitted to enjoying The Other Woman. In what is traditionally date night activity, it seems strange that films have become so categorised by gender. If you’re being cynical, you could suggest that The Other Woman is pretty heavy on the female eye candy and that quite a lot of the promotion has centred around Kate Upton’s breasts in that tiny white bikini.

They may not be ground-breaking or Oscar worthy, but if a comedy is good it will appeal to a mass audience, men included

However, what matters more than ‘this film is for the boys, this for the girls’ is that these films are funny. They may not be ground-breaking or Oscar worthy, but if a comedy is good it will appeal to a mass audience, men included. Comedy doesn’t have to be separated by gender. To do so is limiting, restrictive and ultimately insulting. Audiences responded to The Hangover (well, at least the first one) because it was funny, and it dealt with universal themes.

The same goes for Bridesmaids. These films reflect human life and experience with a funny twist, regardless of your gender. Bridesmaids, The Heat and The Other Woman offer an evening of original fun that pretty much everyone can enjoy. Let’s hope more clever female-led comedies are in the pipeline. The romantic chick flick is dead; long live the female comedy.

 

Now for some female-orientated TV: Does Banshee challenge TV norms?

 

Featured image: Universal

Inset images: 20th Century Fox; 20th Century Fox

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