Sunday, July 10, 2005

In support of chick flicks

Maggie says:
Lately, I've been kind of annoyed at another blog that will remain nameless, one run by guys who tend to have interesting and intelligent political commentary but are not men I'd consider very socially or personally progressive. Something has always bugged me about them, and recently I realized what it was: these are guys who just do not get women. To illustrate my point: while these guys can probably defend Roe v. Wade in their writing much more rigorously than I could, they also recently wasted time on a post bashing Sex in the City as an over-hyped, over-rated show featuring dialogue better suited for the schoolyard than for professional New York women.

Readers know I love this show, but here's why I love it and what they just don't get:
1. Sex in the City is more about female friendships than it is sex
2. Sex in the City is more about relationships than it is sex
3. In real life, girl talk about sex is as explicit - if not more so - than the discussions on Sex in the City, and if you don't believe that, you're clearly a guy who's never been privvy to a female sex discussion before and are probably deluding yourself about what women are really like. (Or what they like, now that I think about it.)

The breaking point for me was when a commenter agreed that Sex in the City was really just "Steel Magnolias in Italian shoes" and the writer of the post continually refused to recognize that as a man there may be lots to this show that he just didn't get the same way a woman viewer might. (By the way, the only dissenter was a woman bringing up the show's honest and touching portrayal of female friendship.) So anyway, fresh off a night where I watched not one but two so-called chick flicks (one of which was the unfairly-maligned Steel Magnolias), I present my top three chick flick list. And I'm not ashamed of them, either.

1. How to Make an American Quilt. I ADORE this movie. First, similarities between myself and Winona Ryder's character (minus the parental drama) are just eery. This is my movie for commitment angst, for "what am I doing with my life?" angst, for "what the HELL am I doing with my life?" angst, for "wouldn't it just be easier to start over from scratch at this late hour?" angst. It's a movie that celebrates women and their stories and reminds me to look around at the examples of the women around me and learn from them. This movie says that all of us have wisdom to share. Because ladies, we do. Now go and seek some wisdom from your girlfriend or great-aunt or neighbor.

2. Steel Magnolias. You know, I hate it when people make fun of this movie. From the minute I turn it on I am in a perpetual about-to-cry state. Not because I'm waiting for Julia Roberts to die, but because every word, every scene is so home to me. This movie screams SOUTH like few others. Add in some incredible women (I want to be Olympia Dukakis' "Clarie" when I grow up) and you have a very powerful story about friendship, laughter, and strength, about women being there for each other no matter what and under any circumstances. Even better, the men in this movie are supporting characters and they know it - the actors just do their understated thing and step aside for the women to rise above them. And they do. Isn't that so often the case?

3. When Harry Met Sally. Who hasn't gotten themselves into a friend/lover scenario? To remain friends, to sleep together, to try a relationship... that is the question. I love this portrayal of Harry and Sally's friendship, because it's so real, and I also love the same-sex friendships we see Harry and Sally have, because those also are very real. This movie just makes me laugh and laugh. I love seeing them over a ten-year span, one becoming more mature and one becoming less tightly wound, but falling into each other as best friends and then finally as partners.

So here they are, my three favorites. And I ask, what is so wrong with these movies? What exactly is the threat of women watching movies about female friendships or about women getting into relationships? The threat to insecure men, I think, must be the big unknown, the fear of what they just don't get. But I'm thinking that the way to find out about women isn't to bash movies and TV shows they might like, but rather, to talk to one. Hello!

So how about it - what are your favorite chick flicks?


Blogger mjae said...

I'd add Julia flicks...
-- Notting Hill (at the VERY least the masturbating Welshman salvages this movie)
-- Runaway Bride (I can't help it, I'm charmed, just charmed! And she DOES finally learn that the first thing she has to do is know her own mind

Those are the FUN ones that come to mind, although there are plenty of more ... oh ... shall we say NEUROTIC ones that I could name but won't.

3:47 PM  
Anonymous Jessie said...

Steel Magnolias makes me homesick, too--and I'm from the hillbilly/mountain South, not plantation/Deep (yes, there is a big difference, for you Yanks out there). Hands down, THE most quotable movie ever if you were fortunate to have been born below the Mason-Dixon.
I suspect I'll be Ouiser when I grow up...

My favorite chick flick of all time (maybe I'm stretching that term a little?) is the Dutch film Antonia's Line. It's a look at four generations of women in the title character's family--all strong and independent and brilliant in their own ways. Like any good chick flick, it makes me laugh and cry and want to watch it repeatedly.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Arvin Hill said...

Prince of Tides is probably my favorite chick flick. Bridget Jones' Diary was a lot of fun. Fried Green Tomatoes was one of the better ones.

But I'm not fond of the genre. The endings linger on forever - like forty-five minutes of forever. And they also seem disproportionately dependent on stereotypes. The predictability factor tends to be very high. See Terms of Endearment and Steel Magnolias (although I did think SM's characters and performances were excellent - and nobody does the South better than Fannie Flagg). I abhor stories which use fatal illnesses as the lynchpin for emotional manipulation.

I guess Julia Roberts is Queen of the Chick Flick. Never been a fan. Even through her expansive smile, she seems far too wounded for me to suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy her films.

And though you didn't ask, the most excruciating chick flick I ever sat through was Beaches. Dear God, that was a punishing film. I usually get nitrous oxide for that level of agony.

I was a fan of Sex In The City, even though I found SJP's character annoying and not very sympathetic. Were I single, I would run from her as fast as humanly possible (not that I'd ever have to). She was supposed to be The Thoughtful One, but I found her shallow and narcissistic to the Nth degree. And I hated the Doogie Howser style voice-overs tapped out on her laptop. I liked pretty much everything else about the show, especially the humor because no one was spared, and we all get humiliated from time to time.

(BTW, I think Sex In The City producer Darren Star has unfortunately struck out with HBO's The Comeback. Lisa Kudrow is a gifted comedic actress - check out her hysterically funny performance in "Lucky Numbers" with John Travolta - but Star failed to create a compelling character for her. The show seems too much of a one trick pony to hold my attention. It could grow on me, - I like to keep an open mind - but the prospect doesn't look good.)

12:46 PM  
Blogger mjae said...

Jesse -- weird! Did you happen to notice which movie I'm featuring as my pick this week? I'm a fellow fan!

Arvin you CRACK ME UP with this comment. Is there nothing you have too much shame to comment on? No, really, I think you're right about most things -- especially the agonizing Beaches. Just die already! Jesus christ. Now, Thelma and Louise hasn't been mentioned. Now that was a girls-die-at-the-end-but-it's-okay-because-they're-so-damn-liberated-how-COULD-they-still-be-alive kind of movie! I've never felt so miserable and so proud and so happy all at once in my life.

I'm also a big Fannie Flag fan. Did you ever read Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man? So damn funny.

3:56 PM  
Blogger mjae said...

Oh and I forgot to add that I just made Marjorie sit through Prince of Tides last month. I just had a taste for it! The book was incredible, too.

3:57 PM  
Blogger Maggie said...

LOVE Thelma and Louise. Can't believe I forgot that one. Nope, don't like Beaches either.

And Jessie: I'm from the family farming/everyone's poor South, so I hear you! Some of my favorite Steel Magnolias lines:
- This is the eighties. If you can achieve puberty, you can achieve a past.
- I promise that my personal tragedy will not interfere with my ability to do good hair.
- The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize.
- These thighs haven't gone out of the house without lycra on them since I was 14.

As much as I disagree with the ladies' philosophy of no such thing as natural beauty, I sure do love laughing about it.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Arvin Hill said...

Is there nothing you have too much shame to comment on?

I can't think of anything. If I ever encounter such a topic, though, I'll let you know.

Posting here is a badly needed diversion from the Dark World of Politics, and I'm glad you ladies saw a need for it. You're gracious hosts, and I thank you for it.

Can't believe I forgot about Thelma and Louise. Saw it at the theater right after it opened and before all The Hype. It had its flaws - Harvey Keitel should never do a Southern accent (advice which 90% of Hollywood would do well to consider) - but on the whole, it was a nice piece of work. Never forgot those panoramic, perfectly illuminated desert shots. Truly majestic. I also never liked another Ridley Scott film. The best thing the guy has going for him is that he's not his brother, Tony.

I'll put "Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man" on my to read list. When I was a kid, Fannie Flagg was often on talk shows and game shows and I fell in love with her sense of humor. Razor wit. She'd make a fine guest for my Fantasy Dinner. You just know she's a laugh riot at parties. She's got STORIES, and she's not afraid to use 'em.

What I found most compelling about Prince of Tides was its portrayal of grief - how we carry it without a thought; how it leaves no part of our lives untouched; and how - exactly how - we have to let it go. (Nick Nolte was never better, although he equalled that performance in Affliction, a film adaptation of Russell Banks' novel of the same name). I learned a lot from Prince of Tides, and would end up on the couch a couple of years later purging my own demons. No one escapes grief, and coming to terms with it really does offer a chance for a better life. I didn't read the novel (rarely do after seeing a film adaptation), but Pat Conroy's narrative at the end was spectacular, beautiful. When Conroy's novel, Beach Music, came out, I devoured it and wasn't disappointed. Oh, to write like Pat Conroy. Now there is a masculine writer who doesn't shrink from The Feminine. He'll break your heart and make you cry, and if you call him a pussy, he'll bust your lip and make you cry. I love that guy.

One chick flick I hated that everyone else liked was A League Of Their Own. Great story, though. Sadly, whatever good emerged from telling it was eclipsed by the launching of Rosie O'Donnell's career. (And has anyone seen Penny Marshall lately? Between the Botox and facelifts, she can barely speak.)

Oh, about Steel Magnolias. I used to spend my childhood summers in Pensacola, Florida, with my grandparents. The "beauty parlor" in that movie was the mirror image of the one my aunt owned, not unlike thousands of other Southern women. Even as a little boy, I knew it was one sanctuary no member of the male gender should be entering, and I avoided it all costs.

6:13 PM  
Blogger marjorie said...

OK i guess i must respond. But first, regarding "chick flicks" - i'm not quite sure what this means, so for the purposes of this post am going primarily with my fave romance movies.

But first, on the subject of Prince of Tides: the book is great. i think you're right, arvin, about what is so great about this story. it is truly beautiful. having said that, nick nolte and barbara make me want to gag -- the movie would have been immeasurably better without either one of them. sorry! i can probably agree it is one of his better performances, but that's not saying a lot.

ok...i should mention that i grew up on a heavy diet of Doris Day and Rock Hudson movies, thanks to my mom. I still have a special fondness for Pillow Talk. I think Meg Ryan is our generation's Doris Day. And her movies with Tom Hanks remind me of the Doris Day/Rock Hudson duo. I pretty much like them all.

Hugh Grant movies in general: As Mikaela knows, I will gladly watch Notting Hill repeatedly. I also like Bridget Jones (the 1st one) a lot. And, About a completely outstanding - talk about poignant comedy.


If I could have one romance movie to carry me through a long dark winter it would be the 1995 version of Jane Austen's Persuasion. The book is incredibly romantic (I could probably recite it to you) and this movie is simply an all natural beauty.

The Piano is an incredible love story.

An all time classic for me is The Way We Were. Yes, I do like Barbara in it, and Robert Redford is completely hot.

(Speaking of Robert Redford, he should probably stop making movies in which he is a sex object, at some point. But, back in the day he was worth watching. For this reason, we have TWWW, Jeremiah Johnson, Barefoot in the Park (great chick flick), and, another great fave, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.)

well...that's enough.

11:51 PM  
Blogger mjae said...

Sorry, no. No matter how you stretch it, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is NOT a chick flick. No no no no no. Great movie, yes. Universal appeal, yes. Hot men and beautiful women, yes yes, god yes. Chick flick? No, I'm sorry, no.

I'd quibble with yout about the Piano, too. Too arty to be a true chick flick (notice the dismissive dimunitive of that term). God damn that last shot HAUNTED me my entire freshman year of college. Not kidding. I traumatized the guy who took me. He felt so bad because I cried so hard, but I was THANKFUL.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Maggie said...

I'm agreeing with Mikaela here, especially about The Piano. I think it's an incredibly powerful film, but not for the meek at heart (men or women). I know lots of guys not into The Piano only because they're sick of seeing Harvey Keitel naked. I also know lots of women not into The Piano because they like happy-go-lucky romances, and this movie is most certainly not that. Amazing, yes. Chick flick? No.

9:52 AM  
Blogger marjorie said...

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid is hilarious. I think it's a borderline chick flick because we get to watch Paul and Bob be their super fine funny selves - together. But, yes, I did put it paranthetically there for a reason.

The love story in The Piano is completely cool, with an entirely beautiful happy ending...even if she did lose her finger. As for Harvey Keitel, I think he's beautiful. I'd argue that The Piano *is* a chick flick because it *is* so romantic. Does a chick flick have to be happy-go-lucky? If so, The Way We Were doesn't count either - and I'd argue that movie is supreme when it comes to women. Women *love* it - I have certainly seen it countless times. For that matter, The Prince of Tides isn't happy go lucky either.

10:08 AM  
Blogger Arvin Hill said...

I'm not a fan of Streisand and didn't expect to be impressed with her in Prince of Tides. To her credit, she played her role with some understatement and mercifully didn't impede my enjoyment of the film by chewing the scenery.

I haven't seen POT since a year or so after it came out, so I may be projecting a bit on Nolte's performance. But his role in Affliction, I stand by. In that story, we see the manifestation of unreleased grief, which makes an interesting juxtaposition with his character in POT.

Sleepless in Seattle gave me stomach cramps. Meg Ryan, yuck. She's an example of a capable actress with a less than impressive body of work (so far, anyway - who knows what the future holds). I loathe the saccharine Tom Hanks - can barely watch him and his watering eyes in anything - and my appetite for "cute" is severely limited.

I think I'd like Hugh Grant better if he'd take a take a Valium, but he was alright in Bridgt Jones' Diary (I didn't see the sequel). He's awfully twittery and doesn't display much range.

No discussion of films with Southern women as central characters is complete without a mention of Little Miss Firecracker. I'm a hard sell on comedies, but that one was pure gold.

The Piano was stellar in every way. I can't quite put my finger on why I don't think this film is a chick flick. (I hate it that we don't get to see many films with Holly Hunter, especially because she's really quite versatile.) I don't understand why men balk at seeing naked men on film, but I assume those who do - which is an awful lot of men - have emotional IQ's of 12 or under.

I don't automatically think of romances as "chick flicks", (I am, after all, a romantic) which begs the question What is a chick flick?. I haven't seen (and likely won't) "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" or "The Joy Luck Club" or "Mona Lisa Smile" or "Under The Tuscan Sun" but I would expect them to be chick flicks. They appear to be films about and for women in the way many action flicks are about and for a male audience. I don't think of "chick flicks" as derogatory, but as a genre, and like any other genre, there are good ones and bad ones.

* * * * * * * *

I've seen two romantic dramas lately that I thoroughly enjoyed. One is HBO's The Girl In The Cafe. Bill Nighy, who I've seen in a number of peripheral roles in various films, was wonderful, and Kelly Macdonald, who I don't recall having seen previously, was no slouch. Chick flick? I don't think so, but others may disagree.

The second was The Cooler (2003) with the goosebumpy William H. Macy, one of America's greatest living actors. It is a romantic story, but not a pretty one, and there is NO WAY would this film can be considered a chick flick. It's set in Vegas (man, do I ever hate that city), and I doubt it's even possible to create a chick flick set there. The direction had its rookie moments - does anyone need to hear a chip as it flips in mid-air? Um, no. But Macy, not surprisingly, saved it. (Speaking of Hollywood marriages, I think he and Felicity Huffman have been for some time.) It's probably the ugliest role Alec Baldwin ever played.

10:23 AM  
Blogger Maggie said...

This movie talk is so fun - I need the mental diversion today!

No, I don't think chick flicks need to be happy-go-lucky. But The Piano is as disturbing as it is romantic. Maybe when it comes down to it, The Piano is as much about men as it about women (Sam Neill's performance is as powerful as Holly Hunter's), and how often do intelligent gender studies fall under the "chick flick" genre? At least we agree that we all love The Piano, though - I can't say the same for any Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks movie (too syrupy) or The Cooler (excellent cast but too... something to be likable).

10:45 AM  
Blogger marjorie said...

I really like Joe Versus the Volcano, with Meg and Tom. Come on, give it a second try. It's got great commentary on the meaning of life.

Arvin, I agree with you, btw, about SJP on Sex and the City. I've only seen the first season (thanks maggie) but her character was confusing. She was supposed to the thoughtful chronicler but instead she came off as a petulant neurotic child, when it came to Mr. Big anyway.

From reading you all, I sense that you consider chick flicks as being generally feel good movies without disturbing elements. I think the most feel good movies of all are the ones that are disturbing and still redemptive, so to speak, in the end. In this sense, The Piano is truly an all time classic. The Prince of Tides is another one along these lines, although it had cutesy elements in it. Perhaps that is the dividing line between 'chick flick' and 'romance' - the cutesy element. Of course, Persuasion isn't cutesy at all, but it isn't disturbing either. I've never met a man who had ever heard of it, or who would consider sitting through it. hmmm...

As for southern chick flicks...Tender Mercies probably won't fit in the category constructed here, but it is has all the elements that I think of - romance, redemption, humor, music, sweetness. And it's so Texas.

Finally, let me add a couple more that I doubt any of you can quibble with, although Arvin may find them too sappy... Sandra Bullock in Hope Floats and While You Were Sleeping.

11:36 AM  
Blogger Arvin Hill said...

The Cooler was awfully dark. Like every film featuring Las Vegas - did I mention I hate Vegas - I had to take a shower after watching it. My fondness for William H. Macy can overcome a lot of elements.

I've not seen Hope Floats or While You Were Sleeping, but I'll cop to liking Sandra Bullock. (Most people who know me would find that surprising.) She's okay as a dramatic actress, but she excels in comedies because she's self-deprecating without being weak, and it takes a special charm to pull that off. She has a good sense of physical humor, too. She kind of reminds me of Lucille Ball. I haven't seen her in an excellent movie, but I've obviously missed a few performances.

Tender Mercies (which I agree with Marjorie on) reminds me of another film some consider a chick flick but I think is way too broad for the category, Rambling Rose, which I absolutely loved.

And, in turn, "Rambling Rose" - with the wonderfully endearing Laura Dern - reminds me of Citizen Ruth which, although it was a little too preachy for my taste, was nonetheless a good black comedy.

I don't know about the distubing elements part of your chick flick definition, Marjorie. A lot of chick flicks feature an abusive spousal or parental relationship - and domestic abuse is a category of violence that disturbs me greatly, perhaps because of its prevalence. It does provide a female protagonist something to overcome, but it's also a sitting duck for film makers and can easily become a gratuitous cliche in the wrong hands.

You may be right, though, Marjorie, about the feel-good angle. I tire easily of being hit over the head with grrrrl power, "Thelma & Louise" notwithstanding. If that's something a director wants to impart, I would rather be shown than told (but that's a relatively common feature of poor films of any genre).

It's been forever and a day since I saw it, so I'd completely forgotten about Joe versus The Volcano, which wasn't horrible. It was an uneven script, but I liked much of the humor, especially Joe's workplace setting, which looked like a hospital basement with poor electrical wiring. It was probably the last time I didn't want to roast Hanks & Ryan on a spit.

You're right: I never heard of Persuasion. I'm not very well read, but since it's Jane Austen (yeah, I Googled it), how bad could it be?

Indochine, anyone? Catherine Deneuve may well be the most beautiful woman to ever grace the screen. And she always will be.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Maggie said...

Marjorie, we have agreement! Hope Floats is a very guilty pleasure of mine. I like Sandra Bullock a lot.

3:38 PM  
Anonymous Jessie said...

mjae: yes, thanks for posting that. It's on my calendar.

"He's a real gentleman--I bet he takes the dishes out of the sink before he pees in it."

Mostly off the subject, but since I suspect I might have a sympathetic audience... I must admit to being very excited about the upcoming Dukes of Hazzard movie, but I have two MAJOR quarrels: what sort of PC bullshit inspired them to paint over the flag on the General Lee, and, more importantly, where exactly did the dialogue coach think Hazzard County was? I saw a preview not too long ago, and they've got that moronic Jessica Simpson talking like she's a Georgia peach in hoop skirts. PEOPLE FROM KENTUCKY DO NOT TALK LIKE PEOPLE FROM SAVANNAH. Okay. Whew. Just had to get that off my chest.

I somehow, and very unexpectedly, became a huge SATC fan, but I have to agree about Carrie. She annoys the crap out of me, and I can't see why Big, Aidan, et al are even remotely attracted to her (yeah, yeah, aside from that whole tiny cute blonde girl in heels thing).

Say Anything stands the test of time.

4:44 PM  
Blogger Arvin Hill said...

I have to admit I wouldn't watch Dukes unless I was stoned to the gills and ran across it on Cinemax, but I am sympathetic to your desire for a taste of home, Jessie. Re: Accents. One of the reasons I could never force myself to watch Primary Colors was because of John Travolta cast as a Southerner. I don't know who directed it, but they must not have ever been further south than Cincinnati.

Thanks for the film talk, ladies. It was a pleasure.

I'm off to a doctor's appointment. Bye, y'all!

5:17 PM  
Blogger marjorie said...

Yeah, the accent thing can be annoying. We watched The Longest Yard the other day (the new one) and the warden, who is supposedly from Texas, was totally copping a deep south accent. Interesting that Willie is going to be in that movie. I probably won't rush out to watch it, but can imagine picking it up on video just for Willie.

I can't believe forgot The Cusack, as our local independent video store calls him. Yes, Say Anything is great.

5:38 PM  
Blogger Maggie said...

Oh my gosh, that is a TOTAL PET PEEVE of mine!!! Every time a Southern accent is portrayed in any movie, they always sound like a damn Georgia plantation owner!!!! As if every one of us Southerners sounds like that!

Thank you for voicing that, Jessie!! We should all meet up for that documentary, I think. :-)

5:40 PM  
Anonymous Jessie said...

I'm down. It would be fun to be around people who wouldn't mind if I let my accent really hang out...

8:35 AM  
Blogger mjae said...

Even though this blog is long-dead, I have to add a final word here.

Marjorie keeps asking what the going definition of chick-flick is:

"From reading you all, I sense that you consider chick flicks as being generally feel good movies without disturbing elements."

Not true at all. I think Arvin's definition above comes closest, actually: movies made about women for women.

It's the audience factor. The movies that stereotypically, it would be hard to "drag a man to." That you apologize for making him watch.

That you're tempted to call your girlfriends to watch with you, instead.

Those are chick-flicks. The guy-groan-inducing movies.

Those are generic chick-flicks as a category.

Marjorie's point about disturbing elements is interesting, because if there's enough blood & gore, it stops being a chick flick because men will go. Blood as salve for sachharine. Hmmm...

For me, if a movie is too good, it transcends chick-flick genre, only if it says so much about the human condition that even men would get something out of watching it -- i.e. Thelma & Louise, Steel Magnolias, Prince of Tides (which does have disturbing elements and yet IS a chick flick).

Chick-flicks tend to be about relationships, not "plot," or, conversely, "Relationships-as-Plot."

Which is a "women" thing but shouldn't necessarily be. Which is why if it's done well, they start being "Ship-Flicks."

[Fans of X-Files debate whether people are Ship People, i.e. more interested in the relationship between Scully & Moulder or Mystery people, i.e. more interested in the X-Files themselves...

10:38 AM  

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