While I will be the first to admit to the strangeness of the inquiry, particularly from a guy, I can only say that I ask the question only after my personal research failed to produce a definitive answer. The question is, simply enough, what are the shared qualities of a “chick movie?” Are there certain characteristics or common threads that distinguish movies that appeal, almost completely, to the feminine viewer?
I know there must be, before I ask, because there are some movies that are only viewed by men when required by their significant other. [There are, it goes without saying, certain benefits that, the man hopes, might befall the man after paying these sorts of "dues." However, these are not the subject of this discussion.] I speak of movies that men never talk about (or even admit to actually seeing) with other men but, after their initial viewing, are the topic of female discourse for weeks afterwards. I ask about movies that women take other women to see as a group experience. Movies that women often view multiple times and keep count.
I have spent the past week or so investigating the question from a guy’s point of view. It seems there are common themes that make a movie a “chick flick.” My viewing consisted of several movies that I, from past experience, have come to think of as “chick flicks.” The specimens, certainly not inclusive, I chose to specifically name include:
Steel Magnolias (1989)
Pretty Woman (1990)
Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
The Notebook (2004)
First, we have to propose some basic rule about what constitutes a “chick movie, hereafter to be denoted as “CM.” The assumption I offer are as follows:
Rule 1: There is no such thing as a sci-fi or horror CM. While fantasy can certainly be used in the storyline (see Ella Enchanted and Princess Bride (I and II), movies that are dominated by technology and, certainly, gore cannot be, by my definition, a CM.
Rule 2: A CM cannot earn the label if the female goes to the movie to see her favorite male star, regardless of the content of the movie. Undoubtedly, female fans of Brad Pitt sat through the interminal “Troy” because he was all muscled-up and showed lots of skin but “Troy” is not, for our purposes, a CM.
Rule 3: While ladies truly love a good romantic comedy, a true CM cannot be a full-on comedy. Take for example “How to Lose a Guy in 28 Days.” It fits many of the criteria of a CM (no guy would see it with a group of guys – unless they have a full-throttle Kate Hudson thing going, and no guy would certainly ever discuss the movie with other guys or admit to having seen it). The same may be said for Legally Blonde I and II. I do not, for my purposes, include these in my sample.
So, what are the characteristics of a CM?
1. The female lead must be a strong woman who faces adversity and overcomes it, usually by pure force of will. (Pretty Woman, et al.)
2. There most be significant tragedy (or tragedies) that the woman must overcome to reach her ultimately-stronger self. In its simplest form, someone has to die (Ghost), often the lead female, herself (e.g. Steel Magnolias). Pretty Woman is the exception that does not prove this rule.
3. There must an overwhelmingly-strong, idealized love interest, not necessarily of a male (et al.). I say not necessarily a man because the love interest in “Fried Green Tomatoes” is one, primarily, of female love – alright friendship – shared between Idgy (Mary Stuart Masterson) and Ruth (Mary-Louise Parker).
4. There may be no “guy violence.” That is, there is no graphic, prolonged war violence. Glimpses of war (The Notebook) are permissable. Fisticuffs between alpha males is allowed but they are not drawn-out, slow-motion, blood-flying-through-the-air visuals.
5. There must be at least one (and, preferably, more) heart-wrenching moment when tears flow. The shedding of tears may be of sadness or elation, but there must be crying.
Before feminist readers begin their attack on this piece as a chauvinist exercise, let me clearly state it is not meant to be interpreted as such. It is a simple request for personal edification and for the female perspective on a topic about which I know (obviously) very little. It goes without saying that there are “guy flicks” (e.g. Braveheart, Gladiator, Goodfellas, ad infinitum) that one could similarly stereotype. This is an attempt to understand what makes a classic female-oriented movie. Feel free to add to my list of characteristics and correct me on which are wrong. In apology, I only offer that I find movies, in general, and the whole genre of “chick movies” (and “guy movies”), in particular, a fascinating subject.