What’s the hell’s a Chick Flick, anyway?
Is it a rom-com? A romantic drama? A woman’s picture (hands down my favorite dated term)? We throw this classification around so casually, yet do we really have a general definition of the genre? Is it even quantifiable as a real genre? Honestly, I’m a woman and a film addict, and I wasn’t really sure what qualified something as a chick flick. So I did what any great scholar would do: I Googled it.
Here’s what the internet thinks a chick flick is:
- For women: “a movie that appeals mainly to women,” “primarily of interest to females,” or is “intended to appeal to women”
- About love or dating: “about relationships, love, etc.,” and per the great Jerry Bruckheimer “How do you cope with money and love?”
- Romantic: “usually about romances,” “having a romantic or sentimental theme,” “often about a romantic relationship”
- A film with a woman protagonist: “a female leading character,” “cast (primarily female)”
- Pink: “thematic use of the color pink” (in all fairness, only Wikipedia seems to really think this)
- For young women: “indulges in the hopes and dreams of young girls,” “especially suited to the tastes of young women,” “designed to have an innate appeal to women, typically young women,” “geared at young females in their twenties and late teens” (geez, we get it already!)
- Emotional: “emphasizes human relationships and emotions rather than action or adventure,” “a sentimental motion picture”
- For entertainment purposes: “escapist entertainment for women”
- Happy: “a film that has a happy, fuzzy, ridiculously unrealistic ending” (thank you, Urban Dictionary)
- Not for men: “comparatively unpopular with males,” “more likely to appeal to women than men,” “the term [chick flick] is used frequently by males when talking about such films”
*If you’re interested in where these definitions came from, just search “Chick Flick Definition” in Google and enjoy the first two pages of results! Quotes here taken from Urban Dictionary, Wikipedia, Dictionary.com, The Cambridge English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, The Free Dictionary, Webster Dictionary, The Online Slang Dictionary, Macmillan Dictionary, and YourDictionary.com (providing a nice mix of legit publications and crowd sourced opinions, I think).
So, what did we get out of that?
Saying “Chick Flick” is a way to dismiss a film as too feminine for the mainstream.
Per the varying definitions – some kinder than others – the only commonality in these descriptions to me seems to be a film that deals with something remotely “feminine.” That is to say, what we stereotypically attribute to the feminine: emotions, relationships, feelings, girlishness, escapism, and indulgence.
Of course, a mainstream action film would seem to be the natural antithetical to this genre. But we don’t call them dick flicks, do we? (Do we? I’m not opposed to this idea, please tell me if you do) Either way, is there really not an action film that’s geared toward women (looking at you, Mad Max: Fury Road). And is there not a horror film whose audience is primarily adolescent girls (Teeth, if you’re feeling freaky)? I think you know my answer.
February is for Chick Picks
Because February is the month of the year we choose to gift our significant others with heart-shaped construction paper cut-outs and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle themed Valentines from the grocery-store, I tend to think of it as a the lovey-dovey, emotional, relationship-centric, overtly commercialized month of our collective American dreams.
And we do tend to blame those feelings on the ladies, don’t we?
So I thought, what better time to bring back my “movie-a-day” review binge than now? Everyday this month, I’ll pop in a “chick flick” and write something about it. It could be a traditional rom-com, a hot and heavy drama, or a gorey, blood soaked horror film that I happen to think appeals greatly to women (well, this woman). Maybe then, we can work out this troubling definition of a genre. Maybe then, we can take back the chick flick moniker from those that would disparage it as something fluffy, girly, naive, and pink, and make it our own.
Will you watch along?
Follow me on Twitter and Instagram and tag what you’re watching with the tag #thischickpicks so I can see how you define chick flicks. There’s no right or wrong – only what you choose. Let’s just have a little feminist fun.
Have a movie you’d like me to include? It’s not too late to send them my way. Tweet me and hashtag it #bitchreviewthis (yeah, you like that hashtag) and I’ll be adding them to the schedule when I can!
So, let’s start with something… unexpected.
All That Jazz (1979)
You had your way; Now you must pay
I didn’t plan to kick this off with All That Jazz – I just really wanted to watch it.
I thought for #thischickpicks number one, I’d go for something clear-cut and to the point: a little Pretty Woman, maybe Runaway Bride, Steel Magnolias – apparently I think Julia Roberts movies define the “chick flick.” (Notting Hill is my favorite – no shame)
But instead, I’m snuggled on my couch, eyes wide and sparkly, watching Roy Scheider bounce around in a glitter cap-sleeved top, down a bunch of dexedrine, and choreograph some kind of orgy version of an American Airlines commercial. Well, this isn’t what I had planned.
Except that, All That Jazz IS a chick flick because I’m a CHICK, it’s a FLICK, and well, I picked it. Getting it now? For those that need it qualified by the aforementioned list of genre qualities, here’s how it measures up:
- It’s romantic – Joe Gideon is in a lifelong romance with his work.
- It’s about love and dating – Gideon loves women, loves dating (many women at once), and he loves the stage.
- It’s emotional – It’s a semi-autobiographical work about a man dying from emotional and physical exhaustion all in the name of performance.
- It’s escapist – I mean, Gideon is still dying but, he’s trying real hard to escape it with some fever dreams about dancing it all away. I’d say it’s quite literally an escapist fantasy.
And here’s how it doesn’t:
- It has a male protagonist – Joe is a heterosexual male doing stereotypically male things like having sex with women, working too much, behaving narcissistically, and well, being successful at work. However, what’s most interesting about Joe to me is that he’s not doing a stereotypically male job. In fact, he’s called out (in a dated, late-seventies way – the word faggot is employed) by the star of his own film about his “feminine characteristics.” These being his love of dance, his height (he’s short, and he’s concerned about it), and well, a life in the theater doesn’t have the most heteronormative connotations. The film knows this and makes light of it well. (and let’s be HONEST here: I don’t know how many traditional “rom-coms” and “chick flicks” actually have lady protagonists. I find it’s often the dude trying to get the girl who gets the lead – so for the first of surely many, many more times – fuck that list).
- It has a morose and grim-as-fuck ending: I won’t blow it for you, but it’s striking. Though it’s done with cheery show tunes in the background, so… happy-ish? But that’s the thing, guys – who needs a happy ending to have a little fun?
- It’s not for young women – or young people. Don’t show this to your children, please.
- It’s not romantic: I know – I just said it was. Except, where it romances Gideon’s career, it exploits his human relationships. The women in his life are either nameless or mistreated. The film forces Joe to deal with that in fantasy (as he clearly doesn’t have the time, or perhaps the ability, to deal with it in real life).
I could go on. But I’d rather just use these lists to make a point:
Any film could be a chick flick – it just depends on how you look at it.
What frame of mind are you in today? Because that’s how you’re going to see the movie playing out in front of you. Sure, some women reach for Dirty Dancing when they’re feeling down (I do). Some women like to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street (I do). And I guarantee you, depending on what I’m feeling like, I can find similar feminine elements in either of those films.
But back to All That Jazz, because it’s really speaking to me today.
The Ending: I really watch this one for the ending. I can’t. Get over. The ending. I am not one to **SPOILER ALERT** you every few paragraphs, but I won’t spoil an ending. You should simply watch it for yourself and bask in the irony. Sweet, sweet, show-tune accompanied irony.
Dancing with Dad: In true feminine fashion, I suppose I am most drawn to the “sentimental” scenes between Gideon and his daughter. Though, as he holds her in arabesque and she berates him for his lifestyle choices (and her lack of baby brother), it’s a shame to describe it as sentimental. What their relationship is, is truthful and honest. It is also somehow warm and celebratory despite Gideon’s callousness – and that, like everywhere else in the film, comes through most in the dance. I especially enjoy when it’s time to go home, Michelle simply clamps her legs around his torso and won’t let go. He’s not an available father, but doesn’t he seem like an inspiring one?
Gideon may not treat women well, but he certainly knows how to celebrate their bodies. Of course, it could be read as quite sexist – his job is to objectify the female body on stage (and he does it very well on a personal level) – but the fact is, he does it to the men, too. And his own women – his ex-wife, his girlfriend, and his daughter – are the main stage dancers in the story of his life. They are clearly the stars, ushering him into oblivion, mocking his poor choices, demanding that he change.
Is Gideon a feminist? No. Was Fosse? I think so. All That Jazz is a complex, exciting, and masterfully executed piece that stands the test of time. And despite being about a man, it is just as much, if not more, about the women he has dedicated his life to. If there is any director that lifts the word feminine up, celebrating its romance, its adultness, its grace, and its beautiful emotions, it is Bob Fosse. And his portrayal of that feminine – in both men and women – makes All That Jazz as great a chick flick as I can think of.
If you like it, watch:
Cabaret (1972): Fosse directs with the same style, great music, and Liza Minelli. A musical for people that don’t like musicals.
Lenny (1974): Another Fosse, this one about comedian Lenny Bruce – it’s the movie within the movie that Gideon is cutting in All That Jazz.
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