Chick flicks

After uncomplainingly sitting through two episodes of Brideshead Revisited earlier this evening (even, I confess, with a degree of appreciation I didn’t feel on first viewing 25 years ago), the prospect of backing up for Mansfield Park was a bridge too far, despite the luscious breasts of Billie Piper.  “I’m ‘chick flicked’ out for tonight”, I remarked to Jen casually as I retreated to the keyboard.

“How do you define ‘chick flick’?”, Jen demanded with a disconcerting edge in her voice.  I ventured a couple of half-baked observations before concluding that this might well be a question akin to “do my hips look big in this dress?” (not that Jen ever asks those sorts of questions).

Over to you, as they say at the end of all those bogus MSM “blogs”.   Is there such a thing as a ‘chick flick’?  Or is it just a sexist term of denigration used by sad middle aged farts like me to evade emotional engagement?  If there is indeed such a thing, what are the core attributes of a ‘chick flick’?  Are there films whose principal subject is human romantic/sexual relationships but which can’t properly be labelled ‘chick flicks’?  What makes the difference?

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic at Charles Darwin University, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law) and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 12 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in he early 1990s.
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23 Responses to Chick flicks

  1. MikeM says:

    There is a chick flick aversion gene on the Y chromosome. That is why men disparage chick flicks but women don’t recognise chick flicks as a specific category and don’t understand what men are talking about.

  2. NPOV says:

    I’ve not seen it, but I suspect not many would classify Brokeback Mountain as a “chick flick”, despite its focus on a sexual relationship.

    There are also films with minimal (or even zero) exploration of the whole romantic/sexual relationship thing that would classify surely…say, Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood type, or Little Women etc.

    Exploration of *human* relationships (and specifically emotional ones – business relationships don’t really count) is obviously key, plus I would suggest, significant roles for women actors – indeed you could probably safely say that the cast of a chick flick would never be dominated by men (or even a single man).

    Wikipedia’s definition “a film designed to appeal to a female target audience” seems reasonable, but I wonder if there are films out there that the directors/producers never intended to primarily appeal to female audiences, but have turned out that way anyway.

  3. NPOV says:

    Having said that, apparently Brokeback Mountain might very much be considered a “chick flick” in Japan. Actually even in Australia (or most of the Western world) it woudldn’t surprise me if it was more popular among women than men – just not by the sort of margin that a stereotypical “chick flick” (Beaches?) would be.

    Now…why isn’t there a similar term for films obviously marketed primarily at men? “Macho movie” gets reasonable number of google hits, but it’s not a term I’ve heard used particularly. And yes, there is “guy cry” – but that’s not really what I had in mind.

  4. Mike Pepperday says:

    I think the essence is men characters who are nice. This means they have a feminine side so talk about their feelings (as men in reality never do especially not among men) and they are prepared to swim the Hellespont for the sake of the woman. And it’s about love; sex can be omitted.

    Brokeback is a borderline case – the men are not very nice to the women in it. The Devil Wears Prada was also borderline: the men barely existed and the women were frightful bitches but the fashions were fabulous and the main character ended happily ever after as a true female with a nice caring guy. The Full Monty was a chick flick.

  5. Rafe Champion says:

    I suspect that the chick flick is a bit like pornography, you can’t really define it but you know it when you see it.

  6. Geoff Honnor says:

    “Ive not seen it, but I suspect not many would classify Brokeback Mountain as a chick flick, despite its focus on a sexual relationship.”

    It’s about a love affair between two blokes NPOV. Which, at least in Australia, makes it deeply dodgy as a straight man’s viewing choice:) Unless you’re an habitue of arthouse movies or an admirer of Ang Lee’s oeuvre.

    It’s a pity because it is a very good movie and Heath Ledger’s performance is remarkable.

    Brideshead is a bit suss on the same grounds given that the faint homoerotic suggestion that Evelyn Waugh wrote into the novel has been much more emphasised in the film/TV versions.

    I think the love stuff in Austen is very much the backstory – Austen didn’t do overt emotion or passionate displays of affection – but I suspect most guys get put off by the bonnets (if not the bosoms)and the mannered exchanges of the characters.

  7. Patrick says:

    Nowwhy isnt there a similar term for films obviously marketed primarily at men?

    Um, Action Film?

  8. James_Rice says:

    Is Repo Man a chick flick? (I seldom use the term.) Although Repo Man doesn’t really have a lot to say about human relationships.

    Now…why isn’t there a similar term for films obviously marketed primarily at men?

    Perhaps you’re looking for “dick flick”. (Although personally I wouldn’t use this term either.)

  9. NPOV says:

    Action Film is one type of film primarily targetted at men, but it’s hardly fair to suggest that its the only sort that’s overwhelmingly preferred by males. There’s sports movies, prison movies, films that primarily rely on toilet humour, probably most forms of sci-fi, mafia movies, etc. etc.
    Actually it would be genuinely interesting to see some statistics on what genres attract the audiences with the most skewed sex distributions.

  10. Jacques Chester says:

    Nowwhy isnt there a similar term for films obviously marketed primarily at men?

    P-O-R-N-O-G-R-A-P-H-Y.

  11. Jacques Chester says:

    But for films aimed at men with a romantic plot, the term of trade these days is ‘Bromance’.

  12. NPOV says:

    …and then of course you have movies like Top Gun, which despite its overloading of testoserone and action, it’s unquestionably not a guy film.

    Oh, and of course “war films” should be on my list above. And I suppose “gangster movies” is a better term than “mafia movies”.

  13. Niall says:

    In my experience…..and there was one put on here last night, which I quickly abandoned…..’chick flicks’ don’t require a whole lot of plot analysis or subjective thinking. You simply watch, absorb and say afterwards, “that was good, wasn’t it?”

  14. Nabakov says:

    It was Alison Bechdel who pointed out the real rules of a true chick flick.

    And fuck she’s right. The Alien quadrology pisses all over any bloke’s action franchise.

  15. TimT says:

    Well of course there is such a thing as a ‘chick flick’, just as there are ‘romantic comedies’ and so on… they’re labels that help producers to get a handle on what sort of a film they want to produce, and who their target demographic is – important considerations for a Hollywood-style producer who wants to be seen as efficient and reliable by others in the film industry.

    They’re just like the labels you get in bookshops – ‘science fiction’, ‘fantasy’, ‘humour’, ‘young adult’, and so on. Often such labels are unhelpful, sometimes they’re misleading, and in some cases they vanish after a decade or so. (Whatever happened to ‘grunge literature’?)

    You do get some films that try to cross genres – ‘The Jane Austen Bookclub’, for instance, which tried to appeal to a) a ‘chick flick’ audience b) an Austen/period-drama audience, and c) a romantic comedy audience.

    That’s probably why it was such a crap film.

    Also:

    Its [Brokeback Mountain] about a love affair between two blokes NPOV. Which, at least in Australia, makes it deeply dodgy as a straight mans viewing choice

    Heh.

  16. James Rice says:

    That Bechdel/Wallace Rule is brilliant! Simple but illuminating. It really is a lot harder to think of films that satisfy the rule than films that satisfy the male equivalent. (Probably because of the scarcity of main characters who are women relative to those who are men.) There’d be plenty of chick flicks that don’t satisfy the rule, however, I’d guess.

    I hadn’t heard of this rule before, so thanks for mentioning it.

  17. AdrienSword says:

    Although Repo Man doesnt really have a lot to say about human relationships.

    Oh sure it does:

    Some guys, they
    Walk down the street and
    Get called arseholes
    This never happened to
    Pablo Picasso
    He would walk down the street
    And girls could not resist his stare…

    Not to mention various esoterica viz the macho ethos of the Western Man.

  18. Nabakov says:

    And speaking of Repo Man and the palette of the sexes, remember it was Olivia Barash’s charcter who had Emilio Estevez’s character wrapped around her little glowing finger from the get-go.

  19. Nabakov says:

    Incidentally, I got drunk with Harry Dean Stanton once (Razor 1989ish) – and yes, he’s not acting. Or rather he’s become himself both onscreen and off.

  20. Yobbo says:

    Pretty simply a chick-flick is any movie where the main protagonist is female. Pretty Woman, Dirty Dancing, Mamma Mia, Waiting To Exhale, yadda yadda.

    A rarer version is where the main protagonist is male, but acts female.

    Examples:

    What Women Want (Mel Gibson acting Female)
    Made Of Honor (dude from Grey’s Anatomy Acting Female)
    4 Weddings And A Funeral (Hugh Grant Acting Female)

    Most men found in chick flicks are good looking but impossibly neurotic and commitment-phobic, but are eventually brought around by the main character’s effervescent personality.

    In contrast in male-oriented romantic comedies, the women are usually portrayed as the “Ideal Girlfriend” in pretty much every way, who dump the main character for doing something stupid but eventually forgive them blah blah blah.

    E.G.

    Wayne’s World
    Van Wilder
    Jerry Maguire
    40 year old Virgin
    Something About Mary

    It’s possible for some films to be both but it’s rare (Jerry Maguire for example was a huge hit with male audiences, because it’s about sports – and cool dudes, but also has a fair bit of chick flick in it).

  21. Yobbo says:

    “Knocked Up” is another pretty classic example of the male version of the romantic comedy too.

    Kathering Heigl – Ideal girlfriend
    Seth Rogen – Cool Dude
    Brother In Law – Even Cooler

    Does something stupid, chick hates him.
    Guys go to Vegas, do drugs.
    Comes back, Chick loves him again.

    The end.

  22. “faint homoerotic suggestion that Evelyn Waugh wrote into the novel”

    It isn’t too faint. There’s a passage, don’t ask me where, where Sebastian and Charles’ sexual activity is made pretty unambiguous, though of course in a way that is obviously not as simply expressed as that. It’s made clear nevertheless in a passage that’s pretty hard to interpret in any other way. I wouldn’t call Brideshead ‘faintly’ homoerotic for its time.

    And I never thought of it as a ‘chick flick’ because it’s fundamentally (sorry about that) about two guys though two women play substantial (ie co-star) roles.

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