Peter Travers, a film critic for Rolling Stone magazine described He's Just Not That Into You as "a women-bashing tract disguised as a chick flick" and Kevin Maher has written in the Times that the "so-called chick flick has become home to the worst kind of regressive pre-feminist stereotype". Dr Diane Purkiss, an Oxford fellow and feminist historian, feels that we have reached a nadir in the way that women are portrayed on screen, and says that there's been "a depressing dumbing down of the whole genre. That's not to say that I want all movies to be earnest and morally improving. But I think that you can actually have entertainment with sassy, smart heroines, rather than dimwitted ones."
(--Kira Cochrane, The Guardian)
young single gal, in Australia, I saw He's Just Not That Into You twice... both times in
packed cinemas, and both with extraordinarily big audience interaction.
This movie is exactly what us girls are craving right now. The
women in the movie seemed real (not such over-the-top 'characters' that
rom coms typically have). We could relate to their situations, and how
they reacted... Finally a movie that explored issues that we're all thinking/feeling in
modern relationships, with no simple answers, just the complexities,
dilemmas, ups and downs that happens in real life!
(--Alley K, comment on a Living RomCom post)
Kinda confusing, isn't it? While I can't say I'm as befuddled by the success of HJNTIY as some of my colleagues (in my largely unfavorable review, I did acknowledge the factors that seemed to cinch its popularity), it's always a bit perplexing when there's a serious disjunct between critical consensus and the box office. But what do I know? I'm just another blog-hard.
So let's hear from the front lines of this particular teapot tempest. Cochrane, quoted above, did an interesting experiment for her London newspaper (thank you Simone White for the link): She watched some recent so-called chick flicks "with a group of teenage girls, all studying for their A-Levels at Kingsmead school in Enfield, London, to find out how the target audience for romantic comedies responds to them." She then showed these girls, who are very much the intended demographic for such studio fare, some classic rom-coms to see what they thought of those.
...[17 year-old] Bronté Terrell says of [Isla Fisher's character] Bloomwood in Confessions of a Shopaholic, "She was very dopey, wasn't she - a woman who can't grasp love or a job or manage her bills." She adds that she "can't think of a recent film where the main female character has been someone successful, someone normal". "And if they are successful," says [17 year-old] Shanice, "it's like they have to get married so that they're not so concentrated on their work."
Rhiannan Brown, 17, is impressed by Meg Ryan's character in When Harry Met Sally. "She's more subtle, more real life than the women in rom-coms today. She's working, she has her own house, she knows what she wants, and what she wants is very similar to what the average woman of today wants – even though," she adds, as only a teenager can, "it was made back in the eighties."
Reacting to the recent spate of wedding rom-coms like Made of Honor and 27 Dresses, these teenagers are "bemused." Cochrane asks whether they're obsessed with marriage themselves, and they laugh... "I see marriage as a bit of a negative thing," says Bronté. "You're signing your life away. Very few of our parents are still together, so why would we want to go through all that?"
The group write off many of today's rom-coms as predictable, cliched and exaggerated, but they're not too bothered. They prefer horror films.
Right, then -- and who can blame them? Meanwhile, back here in the less enlightened States, Hollywood is evidently crowing over having supposedly found the formula for pleasing females. This L.A. Times article by Rachel Abramowitz cites HJNTIY, Shopaholic and other recent successes as indicative of chicks finally coming home to the studio roost:
"The movie industry has distinctly underestimated the female audience
and their box-office clout for a long time," said box-office analyst
Paul Dergarabedian. "...Now movies that have innate appeal to women are paying off. Finally
Hollywood has cracked the code of what is appealing to women."
Evidently quality -- however that increasingly ephemeral factor can be quantified -- is becoming beside the point, as no one (in her or his right mind) compares these current hits with acknowledged classics of the genre. But what is one to make of the ever-ditzy, neurotic and man-crazed caricature leading ladies found in these contemporary winners, which relegate the strong, capable and competent career women of His Girl Friday and Adam's Rib to the dustbins of distant celluloid memory? The conundrum can't be entirely explained away by Abramowitz's answer:
For most in Hollywood, it's not a particular mystery why the chick
flicks are suddenly gaining so much traction in the marketplace. It's the economy, stupid. So these often portray fluffy, happy worlds where life's woes are
settled with a song or a martini. There are no foreclosure signs or
stimulus packages (at least of the economic kind).
This strikes me as simplistic, especially since all the chick flick rom-coms cited were made before our current economic downturn (even Shopaholic was in the can before last Fall's big crash, though it received some tinkering in the aftermath). So their appeal must be rooted in something deeper within our collective unconscious.
My suspicion is that the term "chick flick" is in need of revision, as the question seems to be: Which chicks are we talking about? Hillary fans were rightfully enraged by the idea that Sarah Palin would earn their vote simply because of her gender. So isn't it time to acknowledge that chicks are actually a more specific subset (and a fuzzily defined one) of women? And that many women -- both 17 and older -- abhor "chick flicks?"
I won't pretend to understand why it is that He's Just Not That Into You delights one kind of tomato while another one throws to-mah-toes at it, so I open it up to you. What's going on here, people? Living RomCom wants to know.
MONDAY MERNITS UPDATE: My dad's major surgery is still scheduled for this Tuesday (3/3). Thank you everyone for all the good wishes and prayers. I'll let you know how it goes.