Posted by: emmajoyce | October 15, 2012

Are chick flicks…bad?

O.K. let’s be real. I’m a sucker for romantic comedies.

I know. I know. I know. There are so many inaccurate portrayals of love. There are weak leading female protagonists. There are cliches and cheesy lines and orchestral music. But still…even as a media critic…I enjoy this genre.

O’Shaughnessy and Stadler write, “A number of contemporary films explore differing formations of love and family, yet a large percentage of them still ultimately reinforce coupling and having children as the path to fulfillment and happiness” (p. 288).

It’s easy to see their point. It is also easy to see that women in romantic comedies usually are beholden to a man.

I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate for a second. What if women enjoy these movies preciously because they don’t necessarily have to be strong?

While films can certainly inform, they also entertain…and to a hardworking woman who fills her days with responsibility, sometimes she might just want to go home, kick off her shoes, grab a bowl of popcorn, and escape into a world where leading men do things they don’t do in “real” life.

As a media critic, maybe it’s more important to analyze how the women watching these films respond to them. What needs are they satisfying? Could they actually be trying to construct society by supporting these narrative arcs?

I took the example used in the text with Legally Blonde and applied it to one of my favorite rom-coms, When Harry Met Sally. This final scene could end:

1. After Sally says, “It doesn’t work this way.” This ending supports a strong female character who won’t forgive her boyfriend for his wrongdoing, even despite the romantic element of New Years Eve.

2. After Sally says, “I hate you Harry; I really hate you.” This ending would show Sally as being emotionally unstable and dramatic, but still unwilling to give in to Harry.

3. It could end after the two kiss, confirming Sally’s forgiveness of Harry, acknowledging their friendship, and supporting the societal construction of New Years Eve being a time for love.

As you can see, it ends with #3. Do you think the narrative structure’s need for resolution always feels unsatisfying if the guy doesn’t get the girl, even if another resolution is presented? Is coupling the ULTIMATE resolution?


  1. Another topic of exploration in the romantic comedy genre is the pairing of an beautiful woman with an mediocre looking man who happens to be funny, as in “When Harry Met Sally”. Billy Crystal is the best that she can do? Really? Are the roles ever reversed and a mediocre but funny woman paired with a beautiful man? If so, name the movie. 🙂

  2. I think you bring up a lot of great points in this post. It also made me think about how O’Shaughnessy and and Stadler talk about women in our textbook, especially on p. 274 with the “Structural Roles of Men and Women in Film.” I don’t think it is so black and white, and that the treatment of women in Hollywood is changing quickly as more women gain power in media.

    But back to chick flicks.

    First of all, I agree with you that the genre of “chick flick” is so popular for a reason. It offers an easy, enjoyable escape, as action flicks do for many men I know.

    Secondly, I do think that the “chick flick” genre is changing. Where the final piece de resistance was always girl-gets-boy (look at any Audrey Hepburn or Marilyn Monroe movie), this is not the case anymore. In “The Breakup,” the couple (Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn) tries to make it work, but ultimately can’t. Still, the ending is not tragic. “The Help” could be classified as a chick flick, but in no way is it about a girl getting a boy. The men in “The Help” are all ancillary characters, only adding to the narrative arcs of the female characters. This turns on its head the idea that women have been present in films only to add to the male character’s narrative arcs.

    This makes me think about the Bechdel Test ( Comedian Alison Bechdel created this test, which most mainstream movies fail:

    1. The movie has to have at least two named women in it
    2. Who talk to each other
    3. About something other than a man.

    How many of your favorite movies pass this test? Is this changing? Why?

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