Editorials

Women Continue to Flock to Hollywood's Female-Hating Chick Flicks

Will the madness never end or is there something to these box-office winners?

"No, if he punches you in the face he is not that into you."
Photo: New Line Cinema

Peter Travers at Rolling Stone opened his review of He's Just Not That Into You saying:

Are women desperate or just desperately stupid? This is the misogynist question at the core of He's Just Not That Into You, a women-bashing tract disguised as a chick flick. I mean really, will women actually line up this weekend to see themselves treated as pawns in a man's stupid game? I hope not.

Sorry Peter, but they did. As a matter of fact they lined up in droves and earned the film the #1 spot at the weekend box-office and an estimated $27.4 million despite several horrible reviews and what seems to be a growing hatred for today's female driven features, or chick flicks as we have all come to know them.

Take this barb delivered by Sara Vilkomerson at the N.Y. Observer:

How can I explain the feeling of rage that had me white-knuckling my armrest by the end of He's Just Not That Into You? Unlike the best of romantic comedies -- the ones that send you swooning home with thoughts of first kisses and your own private montage of slo-mo paint fights in your first shared apartment, chasing lobsters or dragging a Christmas tree down a West Village cobblestoned street -- this movie honestly made me never want to date again. It kind of made me not want to be a woman! Actually, it made me not want to be a member of the human race.

Ouch!

And then there is Manohla Dargis at the New York Times who wrote a review that is far kinder than I think she intended it to be, but she doesn't dance around the good and bad with one 'graph:

The movie He's Just Not That Into You, directed by Ken Kwapis and written by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, takes this bit from a 30-minute show and turns it into an overextended 2 hours and 12 minutes. Mostly it does this by turning Gigi simultaneously into a joke (by playing her desperation for laughs) and a victim (by playing her desperation for tears). It's a grotesque representation of female desire, one that the appealing Ms. Goodwin can't save from caricature. It says something about the romantic comedies coming out of Hollywood that the character Ms. Goodwin plays on the HBO series "Big Love," the youngest wife in a polygamous Mormon marriage, is treated with far more dignity than Gigi.

Tom Long at the Detroit News delivers a final message to the ladies in the audience with a statement all women should read:

The saddest thing about this film, coming on the heels of the deplorable Bride Wars, is it continues the trend of supposed chick flicks that treat women as complete morons. Ladies, you're better than this. Way better.

It isn't anything new to see people bashing the current string of stupidity aimed at female audiences from Hollywood studios recently, but it seems to be coming to a head as several seem to believe the trio of high profile chick flicks kicking off 2009 are the root of all evil. Kevin Maher at the Times is already sharpening his knife's edge for Isla Fisher's upcoming Confessions of a Shopaholic saying, "Movies such as the recent Anne Hathaway/Kate Hudson catfight Bride Wars or the forthcoming Confessions of a Shopaholic are aimed exclusively at women, and yet feature female characters who are variously neurotic, idiotic, label-obsessed, weight-obsessed, man-obsessed or wedding obsessed, and often all at the same time."

Amelia Hill at the Guardian has also written a similar piece including a couple of duplicate sources who quotes Dr. Diane Purkiss, a professor at Oxford University, who has said Hollywood heroines are being increasingly portrayed as neurotic, idiotic and obsessed by men, weight and weddings and the latest slew of chick-flicks, including He's Just Not That Into You and Confessions of a Shopaholic, fall prey to the "worst kind of regressive, pre-feminist stereotype of misogynistic cliché."

"Oh wow, she's so pretty. I want to be skinny, rich and in love like her!"
Photo: New Line Cinema

Strangely enough both pieces point to New Line's Sex and the City as some sort of an exception... as if it were better than the others. I'm not sure why, considering it only focused on sex starved, wedding obsessed, neurotic middle-aged loons, but Archie Thomas, foreign correspondent for Variety magazine, tells Maher the continuing trend of portraying women as morons on screen may be coming to an end, "It happened before, to some extent, with the horror genre... The market can take only a certain amount of these types of movies. If you flood it with them the audience appetite is lessened. There is, ultimately, not that many Sex and the Citys to be had every year."

Sorry, she is going to need to convince me with that argument considering the box-office dollars for He's Just Not That Into You prove her wrong entirely. Not to mention this is the time of year these films are meant to exist. The quality starved months of January, February and March are where these types of films reign. Hallmark makes boatloads off Valentine's Day and the box-office sees equal returns thanks to the wedding enthused female movie-going audience.

Melissa Silverstein, the founder of the company Women & Hollywood, chooses to play the blame game saying, “Fewer than 10 per cent of Hollywood films are written by women, and fewer than 6 per cent directed by women... So really what you are seeing is a white male version of women. And that is just unacceptable." Unacceptable maybe, but you wouldn't guess it based on the returns.

Maybe Melissa doesn't know that if the women rejected such films and didn't show up for them in the first place they wouldn't be made. Both articles continue to point to films such as 27 Dresses which made $160 million worldwide on a $30 million budget, Made of Honor which made $105.9 million worldwide on a $40 million budget and despite how absolutely terrible Bride Wars was it has still earned an estimated $79.7 million at the box-office since its January 9 release on a $30 million budget. These kinds of movies won't go away because women still show up to see them, and they drag their boyfriends and husbands with them which adds the price of one more ticket to the box-office return. Things may change when a woman looks at a movie preview and thinks to themselves, "Hey, I am more than just a neurotic, idiotic, label-obsessed, weight-obsessed, man-obsessed and wedding obsessed woman... What is wrong with those stupid women in those movies anyway?"

Then again, perhaps it’s just a vocal minority out there saying these films are portraying a stereotype and these films actually are portraying reality. I doubt that's the case based on the women I know, and I think it's safe to say there are a few people fed up of heading to the theaters to once again see a moron chase a man and the dream to get married only to fulfill what appears to be her #1 reason for living and get treated like dirt along the way.

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  • chewbaca69

    Great Article, and this is exactly how I fel after seeing the movie. It really made me sick that women were portrayed acting like this, and the fact that the mostly female audience was connecting with them was even harder on my gut. This is the reason alot of the girls I have dated are well...retarted.

  • Vince

    The movie I had the hardest time sitting through wasn't "Disaster Movie" (since I didn't see it- natch) or "88 Minutes" (that one was awful though)- for me it was "27 Dresses", possibly the worst romantic comedy I've seen in years. Here is something that is well made and decently acted that is completely undone by horrendous writing, a complete lack of character development and possibly the most unlikeable characters presented on film. I get so angry when I think about the movie mostly because of how this movie could've been different.

    I know people (and by people, I mean dudes) didn't like the film, but I'll compare this to the aforementioned "Sex and the City". Yes, "Sex" follows vapid, materialistic and somewhat shallow stereotypes (four of them to be exact, even more if you count the "sassy gay sidekicks"). But the writing is leagues above many other films of this ilk. The script is fairly witty and is more concerned with the development of the characters instead of putting them in a ridiculous and stupid situation. Again, this is just my opinion, since I know there are many, many people out there who accuse "Sex and the City" of exhibiting the same characteristics that many terrible Rom-coms suffer from. But still, what I'm trying to say is that I (and I hope that many women agree with me) am sick and tired of how low brow and inane these films are becoming.

    Wanna see a good chick flick? Check out "Definitely, Maybe"- now there's a smart, funny, romantic and sweet film that puts something like "Bride Wars" to shame. And the best part of all? It doesn't feature Katherine Heigl dancing like an idiot to "Benny and the Jets".

  • Norah

    The reason women flock to these movies is because high profile, "respected" actresses like Anne Hathaway, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Katherine Heigl and Scarlett Johansson readily agree to star in such movies. These are the women the general female audience admire and are invested in. If all of these actresses firmly say, "NO! I have earned my name and respect in this industry and I refuse to act in bullsh*t like this!", I bet lesser women would be interested in such movies and as a result, lesser movies like this would be made. I can't entirely blame the actresses for doing so because I bet it is hard to find that many complex, interesting and intelligent female characters to play in Hollywood. It is just sad. In some ways, even television is much more feminist-oriented than the movies with past shows like 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 'Veronica Mars', 'Wonder Woman' and many more such examples. HECK, even comics are more feminist oriented. Fables/Y: The Last Man/X-Men/Sandman + Death/Catwoman/Wonder Woman, anyone? I'll bet anyone a million dollars that any major female character appearing in any of these titles would not only be more appealing on the big screen than all of the women from these romcoms put together, but she'd singlehandedly be able to kick the fluffy, frothy shit out of all of them!

  • http://www.womenandhollywood.com Melissa Silverstein

    Brad-

    Thanks for laying out all the different reviews and commentary. The facts about women directors and writers are real. Your piece helped me with my post today, so thanks. Would love to hear what you think of it: http://womenandhollywood.com/2009/02/when-going-to-a-movies-makes-you-stupid/

    Melissa

  • Kristen

    Does anyone bother to ask why men are coming out in droves to see the stupid comedies that make them out to be utter morons?? You cannot pretend that men are not doing exactly what you are accusing women of doing here with these films, and yet some of the male stereotype-driven comedies are praised as genius... don't get me wrong... I enjoy a good comedy as much as the next person, but Superbad did nothing but make teenage boys out to be complete idiots (McLovin anyone?), and grown men out to be even stupider (the carryout clerk and the cop believe this kid's one-name license...please). Stop the patronizing of women that go to theatres to enjoy some stupid laughs when men are doing the EXACT same thing...

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/blog/brad_brevet/ Brad Brevet

    @Kristen: This is one article on one topic and it is about "chick flicks". The problem with your argument is that it is more than just men turning out for those films and on top of that they are comedies and meant to be stupid whereas these films are playing on a more human and emotional level. Two completely different things.

  • Anne

    I think that most women are aware that Prince Charming doesn't exist , that the stuff that happens in chick flicks wouldn't happen in real life and I think that women also admit that sometimes the protagonist is pathetic beyond repare just as any guy would own up the fact that some "Action movies" are mostly shallow and... action driven,lacking a story and filled with unnecessary explosions but entertaining nonetheless. Should movies like that top the box office? No, they probably shouldn't, but hey, people like harmless entertainment.

    Sure, I think that some chick flicks are a bit over top, but women like going to the theatres to get a few laughs out of it. Chick flicks are not really my thing since I'm more of a "foreign/indie movie" type, but I get why women enjoy them. There's nothing wrong with liking a bit romance if war movies and documentaries is not your thing.

  • Vince

    @Anne:

    I totally understand where you're coming from with this. I do see my share of stupid, dumb, low-brow comedies (one of my favs from last year was the incomprehensible "You Don't Mess with the Zohan"). Mostly though, I take these films with a grain of salt- I'm aware that they're just entertainment. I don't see myself as an Israli counter-terrorist or a chubby Mall Cop (I'm a sorta chubby college student, for the record). One can enjoy these chick flicks on the same level, but it gets to a point where you can see how shoddy all of it is. It's become the equivalent of the Freddy or Jason franchise where they just remake the same movie six or so times, not because they want to please the audience, but because they can get away with it and make a profit. Echoing Tom Long's quote in the article, I feel that women as avid moviegoers deserve a whole lot better then what they're getting.

  • Leandro Dubost

    Great article.
    I don't know what happens with those chick flicks... Same happens with tv series, like Gossip Girl, Desperate Housewives or Sex and the City: most female characters are either stupid or dumb, for all the most stereotypical reasons, and we're talking about shows aimed toward women!
    Do the they agree with the way they're portrayed? Apparently yes, because not just they watch those movies, but they actually like them!

    A lot has changed in Hollywood, when female characters were actually likable. Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Roman Holyday! Man, did Audrey Hepburn made a lot of wonderful chick flicks!!

    There's a silver lining...
    Have you ever watched Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants?
    It's a good chick flick, target to teenagers/young adults, but the characters have more depth and personality than the 'mature' ladies from Sex and the City. They actually have nice dilemmas other than 'should I buy this dress?' or 'do I need another cosmopolitan?'.
    Sisterhood is the kind of rare chick flick: the one with honest and sincere HUMAN characters.

    I haven't seen the sequel, though...

  • Gozer

    Let us not forget that women are on the rise is society overall and men are either stalled or declining when considering education, wealth, employment, and all that goes with it. And perhaps depicting certain female stereotypes does as much to deconstruct it as it does to propagate it. The disconnect is clearly between what audiences consume (entertainment that is in some way relatable) and what critics and intellectuals aspire to (women that are without vulnerabilities and somehow masculinized).

    All of the women in the movie are successful in the formerly male-oriented business world. "Success" in the social sense is being rewritten as we type and there are plenty of 30-somethings out there, of both sexes, for the first time contemplating what that should look like.

  • malevolentmuse

    @Brad Brevet: Sorry Brad, but I have to agree with Kristen's point. What you're not considering is in both cases the movies are written in a manipulative manner to appeal in a certain way. The reason you find similar movies with guy acceptable is because you relate to them. Since women don't they find them to be vulgar and offensive (For example, I know only two people who truly hated Tropic Thunder and they were both women). The one thing being ignored by all of these reviewers (yourself included) is while you take the attitude that these characters are offiensive idiots women see themselves in these characters just like guys see themselves (or in the case of Superbad themselves as teenagers). I saw HJNTIY you and I hate with a passion I've not felt in quite some time, but the women in attendance ate it up like a kitten at a bowl of milk. All I heard leaving the theater were women talking about how "finally" a movie got what women go through. When you rip these characters as being stupid you're ripping literally millions of women and that's exactly how they see it which is why they react the same way Kristen did. You may think you're being the guy with a conscience, but as far as their concerned you just don't get it. Maybe they're right and maybe they're wrong, but I really think this whole issue with reviewers (again, mostly men) trying to act like protect knights need to accept what you see on screen as crap many (and maybe most) women see as their lives and emotions.

  • kassiopeia

    But we ARE all obsessed by our weight, and every other woman's weight too. Sad, but true...

    OK, so "Bride Wars" was rubbish, but I'm a 20-something woman and have seen many of my friends turn from funny, intelligent, independant women into snarling Bridezillas the second they get a ring on their finger, so the concept of that film probably isn't quite as insulting as first appears! That said, I despise most chick flicks and I have to think back to the first Bridget Jones as the last one I truly enjoyed because she was a funny woman in a film, rather than a woman in a funny film - "Knocked Up" was very successful, and yet the female characters were portrayed as nagging shrews, whilst all the humour was derived from the men.

    "American Psycho" was directed and written by women and that was ace.

  • missbaxter

    @malevolentmuse: Hey there. I definitely agree with you when it comes down to how women identify with what they see on screen and that you can't just pull them to shreds or dismiss the fact that they identify with those characters.
    For me, the problem is that the identity construction goes both ways. I would say that women primarily identify with frothy rom-com heroines because they're not being offered any other representations in mainstream culture to identify with. Movies, magazines, popular literature, and advertisements all consistently bombard women with a certain concept of what a 'woman' is supposed to be like,(affluent, young, beautiful (thin), in a successful relationship/high-flying career/devoted mother) ; in this respect, romantic comedies are responsible for presenting narratives and imagery which shape women's perceptions of themselves, and which thus lead to their subsequent identification with rom-com heroines...

    We need alternate representations! C'mon screenwriters! Male or female, you can do better than this!!

  • Phil

    Are you kidding me? Men routinely watch male characters who are stupid, suffer trying to chase after women, etc. It's a mixture of identifying with the character and laughing at the character. Men do it with respect to male characters, there's no reason to think women are doing the same with respect to female characters.

  • Michael

    @Kristen: This also goes for malevolentmuse.

    Superbad is a terrible example of the point you're trying to make. You won't be able to find a "male-stereotype driven comedy" with good reviews around the board. Negative criticism is the norm for films that tend to exemplify the chick-flick/"male-stereotype driven comedy" genres, at least the ones that stay true to the formulae. Superbad is a rock culture movie. It's a commentary on adolescence as an existential condition. Don't be so quick to argue against men on every issue. Brad's commentary on the issue of this article was spot on.

    Pawn Noobs.

  • Kristen

    @Michael:

    I wasn't necessarily trying to argue with Brad's commentary. In fact, I believe it is mostly true, female characters in romantic comedies have become more and more drab and ridiculous, but I just do not believe that women should be singled out as a group of people that are flocking to theatres to watch films that represent them poorly. Men are just as guilty, so why not make a point that characters in general are fading in complexity.

    As far as using Superbad as my example, it was the first movie I thought of, there are plenty of other examples that would have fit the bill.