Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Screening Log - 27 Dresses

If you ask me, Katherine Heigl has a serious future in chick flicks. For one thing, she does comedy a lot better than your average Hollywood blonde, and for another (in addition being a bona fide hottie, duh) she’s got this kind of approachable, everywoman quality to her. That’s key, because after all, it’s the gals who bring in the dollars for these movies. You can’t be a leading lady in rom-com world if women instinctively dislike you. (Hence why Keira Knightley and Liv Tyler only seem to wind up in dramas… Hos, the both of them.)

Anyway, all that to say there’s a lot of potential here. But 27 Dresses is certainly not going to be Heigl’s Pretty Woman. For the first hour or so it has touches of sass and genuine laugh-out-loud humour, and some good fun commentary on Weddingpalooza and the plight of the eternal bridesmaid (eternal witty sidekick Judy Greer has a few moments of pure genius), but it’s uneven and feels contrived at times.

And the last 20 minutes or so of the movie? Forget uneven and forget sass – try consistent, over-the-top cheese.

I hate to say it, because I’m a Heigl fan and most definitely a Marsden fan (oh, Cyclops – I could look into that pretty blue eye all day), but this one’s a rental.

The trailer is here.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Katrina Onstad on 27 Dresses

Over at CBC.ca, Katrina Onstad is one of my favourite movie reviewers. Although she often takes my precious chick flicks to pieces, she always does it in style, with wit and humour.

Her latest gem is a vicious-but-fun dissection of 27 Dresses, and of wedding flicks in general. Here's a quality moment:

"A film as schematic as 27 Dresses should be, if nothing else, a sexy escape hatch from the real world. But the romance is as neutered as High School Musical. Marsden, so pretty, is trapped in a vague role as Jane’s counterpoint, but he never really comes off as the edgy challenge Jane requires. A courier bag doth not a brooding artist make."

I'm off to see 27 Dresses myself on Tuesday! Stay tuned...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

R.I.P. Heath Ledger, 1979-2008

Well, after the death of Brad Renfro last week, I didn't expect to be writing another obit post so soon. But I was shocked and saddened when I got home from work tonight to hear about the death of Heath Ledger.

10 Things I Hate About You, the teen rom-com that brought Ledger to Hollywood's attention (and to the attention of millions of teenage girls), has never been one of my real favourites. Brokeback Mountain, on the other hand, the movie that completed Ledger's transition from pin-up prettyboy to heavy-weight actor, touched me the way few other films have. And his mostly-silent cowboy Ennis was the main reason for that. Each clenched jaw said more than another actor's yelling or hysterics ever could. I'll look forward to seeing I'm Not There and Dark Knight even more now, although both will be sad occasions. I'm very, very sorry that we'll never get the chance to see what Heath Ledger would have done next.

Full story (well, the story so far) is here.

Update: The Washington Post has one of the more thoughtful obits/retrospectives here.

Test your Chick Flick knowledge...

CBC.ca has just posted a quiz called "What a Girl Wants: Test Your Knowledge of Chick Flicks". I always enjoy CBC's quizzes, they're quirky and usually manage to slide in a few inside jokes or jibes in the questions and answers. This one was a little on the easy side for a Chick Flicks enthusiast though, particularly if the 1980s and early 1990s are your bag.

Check it out here!

I scored 9 out of 10. I blame Hugh Grant for spoiling my perfect game.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

R.I.P. Brad Renfro, 1982-2008

I'm normally the type that always tries to cut an awkward or emotional moment with a joke, but I was so saddened to hear about Brad Renfro's death today that I can't even come up with a bad one-liner at the expense of Happy Campers.

Although he never really starred in anything that could be called a pure chick flick (at least not while I was still paying attention - maybe one of the 'B' movies he made later in his career?), Brad Renfro was in many ways single-handedly responsible for my conversion to girly movies, and girly-ness, as documented in my first-ever post on this blog. When I was 13, I decided that I was in love with him. I bought The Client, The Cure, and yes, even Tom and Huck, all on VHS. When I was 14, I snuck into Sleepers. At 15, I plastered my locker and my bedroom with photos of Brad, mostly cut out of Bop, Sixteen and Tiger Beat magazines that I had bought on the sly. (I was supposed to be a bad-ass, remember?)

But see, that was the thing about Brad Renfro - he was such a bad-ass himself, even while posing for the cover of Tiger Beat, that I didn't feel like a big GIRL when I was crushing on him. I mean, the guy acted on film for the first time ever opposite Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones, right? And totally held his own. (That scene where he takes the cigarette out of Sarandon's mouth and starts smoking it himself...? Wow. I was sold.) He seemed like such a legit talent, I figured the teen-dream phase would pass and eventually I would be crushing on a real actor with real cred. So yes, while I mocked the girls who had lockers full of Barry Watson or Jonathan Taylor-Thomas, I swooned over pictures of Brad Renfro.

Sadly, of course, he went the classic child-star route before he even made it out of high school: drugs, drugs, a faded career, and more drugs. And for a few years now I've hoped he might resurface one day, Drew Barrymore-style - clean himself up and make a comeback as an adult. It's a real shame that we'll never get to see what he might have made out of himself, given the time and the help he needed.

I remember, back when I read every word written about Brad Renfro, someone or other compared him to James Dean. They were talking about his good looks and rebel persona at the time, but today that's turned out to be a sad comparison indeed.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Screening Log - Saved!

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard someone say, “I can’t stand Mandy Moore, but I loved her in Saved!” So I was curious to see my own reaction to the movie.

Because the truth is, I love Mandy Moore. I have a recurring daydream where we meet somehow, and become BFFs. She styles my hair and takes me shopping at cool vintage boutiques in Brooklyn, and I console her by saying that she’s better off without that quirky, self-obsessed loser Zach Braff, even if Scrubs is my favourite show…

I digress. Back to the movie: in my book, Saved! is everything a teen comedy should be. You’ve got the physical comedy, the silly romantic entanglements, the social isolation most everyone can relate to, a bit of commentary on “tolerance” and “difference” and all those other –nce words, and finally the heart-warming pay-off that I always look for in a teen rom-com, even one as smart and sassy as this.

Saved! has officially joined my short list of teen movies that entirely validate the existence of the genre, alongside things like Jawbreaker, Mean Girls, and The Girl Next Door. If only we could have more of these, and fewer straight-to-DVD American Pie sequels.

Plus, who knew my girl Mandy could do “conniving bitch” so well?

Renewing my vows, Redux

So I’ve just completed the move from Toadfire over here to Blogger, and I’m really pleased with the new set-up. One of my New Years Resolutions was to get this blog fired up again, and I think having a new home and fun pink sidebar text will definitely help me do that. I know I made a lot of big promises last time I “renewed my vows” to this project, but this time – at the risk of sounding like the bad guy in a dead-end relationship – I really am going to change…

From now on, here’s how things are going to look: features or columns once per month, screening logs as and when (hopefully a few per month), and a lot more short items – gossip, movies I’m excited about (or NOT excited about, as the case may be), links to interesting reviews, that sort of thing. The new content should help to keep things fresh between major features.

Looking forward to it!

Death Becomes Her - My review at notcoming.com

I've been writing reviews for Not Coming to a Theater Near You for several months, but until now there has never really been an opportunity for cross-over between my subject matter there (Not Coming deals with older, obscure, and independent movies for the most part) and my subject matter here: Chick Flicks!

But for Not Coming's annual October feature, 31 Days of Horror, I reviewed Death Becomes Her - a 1992 chick flick/comedy/horror hybrid. From my review:

"Long before Simon Pegg brought the world the zom-rom-com, and before Wes Craven made us scream, there was another comedy-horror hybrid on the scene: Death Becomes Her. But it is neither as funny as Shaun of the Dead nor as surprising or suspenseful as the first Scream movie managed to be at times: it is left, instead, to flounder awkwardly between genres, with some small laughs and plenty of bone-breaking, blood-spilling special effects."

Read the full review here.

Screening Log - Boys and Girls

Okay, so I have a not-so-secret crush on Freddie Prinze Jr. And trashy teen rom-coms are like crack to me. So in theory, Boys and Girls should have been a perfect bit of guilty pleasure on a rainy Wednesday evening. Instead, I can unhesitatingly say that it is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.

The funny thing is, I actually saw it in theaters years ago – you might remember it being billed under the tagline “Warning: Sex Changes Everything” – but its awfulness seemed to have slipped my mind. The plot is your basic, run-of-the-mill, When Harry Met Sally rip-off: Nerdy Boy and Cool Girl bump into each other repeatedly through those painful teen years, and strike angry sparks each time. But in college, Nerdy Boy gets a haircut and contact lenses and the two become unlikely Best Friends Forever… UNTIL that one fateful night!

You know the rest. The thing is, Freddie – bless his heart – really can’t pull off “nerd”. Stick to “jock with a heart of gold”, sweetie. As for Claire Forlani, well, there’s a reason she hasn’t been heard from since Antitrust. But the real problem isn’t the acting, it’s the script. I love a cheesy teen romance, but they are what they are, and this script tried far too hard to be something more: clever, moving, philosophical even, about the meaning of love and the things that make relationships work. It failed. Miserably. Somewhere, Nora Ephron is cringing at the messy re-hashing of her “can men and women really just be friends” masterpiece. I feel your pain, Nora.

And one last thing – I haven’t spent a ton of time in the Bay Area, but I’m pretty sure that the Marin Headlands aren’t within walking distance of the Berkeley campus.

Why, Freddie, why?

Superbad, Leah McLaren, and the Chick-Buddy Flick

Plenty of critics have been praising Superbad for its depiction of male friendship. The scene where Evan and Seth say those magical three words ("I - Love - You ... Man" - okay, it's four I guess) is generally cited as proof that the latest offering from Seth Rogen (he of Judd Apatow/Steve Carell/Frat-Pack-thunder-stealing fame) is moving beyond the typical buddy flick and finally making it okay for men to express their platonic feelings for each other.

Last week, Leah McLaren joined in with a column in The Globe and Mail, called Lament for the Female Friendship Flick. She, too, praised Superbad's depiction of male friendship, and argued that similar depictions of female friendship are sadly lacking:

"Watching two pubescent man-children sweetly bumble their way around the screen for almost two hours got me wondering why there aren't many similar movies aimed at women, and to the extent that there are, why they are crap or depressing or both.

Take Thelma and Louise. While arguably the most successful female buddy movie ever made, the price these women paid for enjoying each other's company is harsh. One is raped, the other is robbed and in the end they both drive off a cliff. In Steel Magnolias, Julia Roberts dies of diabetes complications after having a child, and in Beaches Barbara Hershey is stricken down with the big C. In the Witches of Eastwick, Susan Sarandon, Cher and Michelle Pfeiffer are put through the (literal) hell of sex with Jack Nicholson and in Ghost World Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch drift apart after high school and make each other miserable over a middle-aged male character actor. It would seem that girls who get along in the movies either have to die or sleep with Steve Buscemi."

McLaren takes a look at a few theories to explain this void. Could it be a cynical number-crunching game, where male buddy-movies have cross-over box office appeal but chick flicks don't? A result of male domination in the screenwriting, directorial and production levels of Hollywood? Or - most sinister of all - is it because women don't really form genuine friendships with each other? Are we simply out to steal each other's menfolk and give each other eating disorders?

Thankfully, McLaren doesn't support this last hypothesis - although just raising it prompted an awful lot of hideously sexist responses on the Comments board. (Shouldn't these people be reading the Sun? Or the National Enquirer?) But her column got me thinking about depictions of female friendship on film, and the only conclusion I came to is that she just plain didn't look hard enough for positive ones. What criteria did she use to define "female friendship flick"? Because most, if not all, chick flicks contain at least a token "loyal female" sidekick. If she's disqualifying movies that also contain significant romantic sub-plots, then Superbad shouldn't count either - the girls do, after all, play a major role even if the movie's central message is about the boys and their friendship.

Herewith, a short list of chick flicks that feature, in my book, prominent positive depictions of female friendship:

1) Now and Then - This movie was a fixture at slumber parties when I was in junior high, sort of a female Stand By Me without the dead body. The boys barely show up in it at all - although the two scenes with a young Devon Sawa were always rewound again and again and again...

2) Miss Congeniality and Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous. I've dealt with these before in Chicks Who Fight Crime - the second one doesn't even have a romantic subplot! Not even a little one!

3) Bridget Jones' Diary - Yeah yeah, obviously this one is all about the man-chasing. But Jude and Shazzer (and Tom - do gay men count here?) are crucial pillars of support, her "urban family" as Bridget puts it. They even understand when she bails on the Paris trip - now that's platonic love, isn't it?

4) Circle of Friends – There’s some big-time female betrayal from one of Minnie Driver’s friends in this one, but also an equally big-time display of loyalty from the other. I’m going to count it.

5) Strike, Mona Lisa Smile, Dick, and probably several other Kirsten Dunst movies of debatable quality. This seems to be one of her specialties.

Got any more? I know I’m only scratching the surface here…

ps: Since I originally posted this, the original article has gone offline. Leah never responded to my email about this, either. Sigh.

Screening Log - Roman Holiday

Boy, Audrey Hepburn is just a heavenly little creature, isn’t she? My Hepburn knowledge is shockingly sub-par (I watched My Fair Lady with my mom 15 years ago – and until this one, nothing since) so I was pleasantly surprised by those big dark eyes and remarkable screen presence.

Roman Holiday was a lot of fun – fabulous shots of Rome’s landmarks and street scenes, and Gregory Peck was great too, as the American journalist who shows Hepburn’s runaway Princess around the city. He rocked that classic 1950s American-movie-actor accent, you know the one I mean? All those old guys have that odd, here’s-looking-at-you-kid, kind of deliberate way of speaking. I can’t explain it exactly, but the sound is just as evocative of that era, for me, as the grainy black and white film.

The one let-down of the movie is that it’s taken some of the shine off one of my favourite cheesy chick flicks, Chasing Liberty. It’s the Mandy Moore pic where the First Daughter runs off to Europe with a dashing British photographer, and I watch it whenever I’m feeling the travel bug. But it’s also a blatant, shameless rip-off of Roman Holiday, which I had never realized before, and that makes me a little sad.

I’ll definitely have to expand my Audrey Hepburn repertoire – up next, Breakfast at Tiffany’s! That way I’ll finally know what Deep Blue Something was talking about in that good old one-hit-wonder of theirs…

Screening Log - Before Sunrise / Before Sunset

Okay, so maybe to some these two Euro-romances are old news, but I just discovered them and I am swooning like Julie Delpy on the ferris wheel…

Before Sunrise (1995) is THE classic backpacker romance. Jessie and Celine (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) meet on a train in Europe: she’s heading home to Paris, he’s getting off in Vienna for a flight home to the US the next morning. They click; they get off the train together; they spend a night wandering around Vienna. That’s pretty much it, but I thought it was beautiful – nice footage of both classic landmarks and Viennese street scenes, great music, and it’s like spending two hours eavesdropping on a conversation between two pretty interesting people. There’s a voyeuristic enjoyment in watching their connection develop.

Caveat: Even as I was loving the movie, I couldn’t help thinking that if I’d watched it five, three, or even two years ago, I might have hated it. The thing is, nothing really happens. They just walk around and talk: about love, death, the usual late-night backpacker fare. If you’ve recently done the Europe backpacking thing, or if you just like slow-moving, beautiful films that emphasize character and setting more than action, give this one a shot.

Before Sunset (2004) catches up with Jessie and Celine as they meet again nine years later, in Paris. This time their wandering and talking covers only the span of an afternoon, so it is almost like watching them in real time as they re-discover their old connection. There’s less emphasis on place here (although still some great Seine-side shots and a cafĂ© scene) but you really get to know more about the characters, their lives, their fears, etc. I had one of those dopey, half-teary smiles on my face the whole time.

Ps: Turns out Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy collaborated with Richard Linklater on the script for the second movie… and it was really pretty good. Makes me feel bad for all those cracks I took at Ethan Hawke’s second career as a novelist – maybe I ought to give the guy a chance?

Love in New York

Prime (2005)

Trust the Man (2005)

What do two of the greatest chick flicks of all time have in common? Well, for one, both are set in New York City, and in both, the city is more than just a backdrop; it becomes a part of the fabric of the story. For another, neither are really chick flicks: their appeal is near-universal. Even the term ‘romantic comedy’ doesn’t really fit. Both are comedies in the same way that life is a comedy; sure, they have funny moments, but they’re also touching, sad, complex, and above all, honest about the way men and women interact.

I am talking, of course, about Annie Hall, the Woody Allen classic that was the last comedy to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, and Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally. Together with Allen’s Manhattan, they set the gold standard for an entire sub-genre of chick flicks, the New York City rom-coms. Trademarks of the sub-genre include lengthy montages of Manhattan scenery, and lead characters in their late 20s or early 30s with demanding high-powered careers and/or artistic aspirations, regular visits to therapists, and, often, an ‘urban family’ of like-minded friends doling out advice. Many of these movies also attempt a higher degree of wit and insight than your average chick flick; however, since the bar was set by Allen and Reiner in decades past, few have really pulled off this last trait.

In 2005, two fresh attempts were released: Ben Younger’s Prime and Bart Freundlich’s Trust the Man. Both directors consciously attempted to re-create the magic of Annie Hall and When Harry Met Sally (thank you, DVD bonus footage) and while neither is perfect – and both were largely overlooked at the box office – they are, for me, two of the better efforts I have seen in recent years.

Prime stars Uma Thurman as Rafi Gardet, a recently divorced professional who is just starting to put the pieces back together when she meets David Bloomberg (Bryan Greenberg - I heart him!), a twenty-three year old aspiring artist. Rafi’s shrink Lisa (Meryl Streep) is thrilled about the relationship… until she learns that Rafi’s new flame is her son. This is where Prime went wrong in the lead-up to its release, I think – the trailers billed it as a silly riff on the old mistaken-identity, who’s-who theme. From the previews, I expected it to be all door-slamming, closet-hiding, hilarious-costume type stuff, but while there’s some of that in the movie, there is so much more to Prime than goofy confusion.

The movie tackles real issues head on – from the problems that can crop up when two people love each other but are at very different stages in their lives, to the expectations of parents and family members about who their children ought to be settling down with. Uma Thurman and Bryan Greenberg have great chemistry, and Meryl Streep is, as usual, fantastic as a woman forced to think about supporting her son’s choices the same way she does her clients. Smart, funny, moving, with a great ending that got me a little teary – I think this one will become a required annual re-watch for me.

Trust the Man stars David Duchovny, Julianne Moore (director Bart Freundlich’s real-life wife), Billy Crudup, and Maggie Gyllenhaal as two inter-connected couples, both at crossroads in their relationships. Duchovny and Moore’s Tom and Rebecca are married with children, and Tom is adjusting to becoming a stay-at-home dad as Rebecca pursues her theater career. Billy Crudup plays Rebecca’s younger brother Tobey, and Maggie Gyllenhaal is Elaine, children’s book author and Tobey’s long-suffering girlfriend of eight years. As both relationships begin to unravel, the friendships between Tobey and Tom, and Rebecca and Elaine, are put under strain as well.

The cast is amazing and the script is fantastic, full of those slightly grim, funny-because-they’re-true relationship moments. Tobey and Tom in particular feel like real, flawed, authentic characters, and Freundlich does a great job of explaining them without necessarily forgiving them too easily. The movie lost me a little towards the end (I can rarely survive public confessions of love or any use of slow-motion), but still, all in all, it’s worthy of being called a descendant of the classics.

Both make great solo viewing (Prime especially – grab some Kleenex) and Trust the Man is probably one that the lads can enjoy as well. Trust the Man might also make good mother-daughter viewing, but I wouldn’t watch Prime with my mother unless I was trying to send her a message. (And even then, I’d find a convenient excuse to leave the room during the steamier scenes… but that’s me being kind of uptight.) Both these movies have been tragically overlooked – if you like smart movies about the way people really relate to each other, go out and rent them asap!

Screening Log - Hairspray (2007)

John Travolta in a fat suit and a dress? Christopher Walken selling whoopee cushions and rubber chickens for a living? Zac Efron?!

Yes, the Hairspray re-make had all the makings of a very funny movie. The question was whether I would be laughing with director Adam Shankman, or at him... And whether he'd manage to combine John Travolta in a fat suit with a message about equality, without ruining both.

For my money, he's pulled it off - though admittedly, I went on cheap night. The cast is fabulous. When Nikki Blonsky smiles you can't help but smile back, and no one does a better cold bitch than Michelle Pfeiffer. John Travolta and Christopher Walken are surprisingly touching as Tracy Turnblad's parents, and Queen Latifah combines comic timing and immense dignity in a way that's perfect for her role.

Of course it's silly and camp, but it's the campiness and the frequency of big, fun song-and-dance numbers that saves the movie from drowning in gooey sentimentality, and keeps the audience from asking too many tricky questions. (Is being fat the same thing as being black in 1962 Baltimore? Is it? Is it really?) Plus, Zac Efron is dreamy. He's like a singing Barry Watson for a new generation.

ps: All jokes aside, I was actually impressed (and surprised to be impressed) by Zac "that kid from High School Musical" Efron in this movie. His "Ladies Choice" number and his role in "Without Love" are up there with the Travolta/Walken tango for fave scenes...

Renewing my vows...

This was originally posted on August 1, 2007, over at this blog's original home, deva.toadfire.com. "Revenge of the Scribes" went up in January 2007, and then I ignored the blog for a shameful seven months. Of course, I didn't exactly stick with the vows I made in this post, either...

Okay. So I've been a little remiss in my blogging duties. A lot remiss, really - 7+ months worth of remiss. But baby, I'm here to tell you I can change. And I really mean it, this time... From now on I'm putting 100% honest commitment into this relationship.

I can't take you all to Vegas with me for a vow-renewal ceremony, but I can make a few concrete promises.

1) From now on, I'll be doing one of my main, themed entries each month. Maybe even twice a month, if the urge strikes me. Coming down the pipe - the new generation of New York City rom-coms, and an ode to wedding movies, in honour of the various nuptials I attended in July.

(Yeah, that's my excuse for July - the excuse for February through June is a sob story about how I changed jobs no less than five times, including stints shoveling snow, and slicing smoked meat and kosher dill pickles at 6am. YOU try blogging when you've been asking people if they want swiss or cheddar on their breakfast bagel all morning.)

2) I'm introducing a new feature, mostly aimed at making me feel like I'm writing lots when in reality I am writing very little. I call it the Screening Log (thanks, www.notcoming.com) and basically it means that when I see a chick flick, particularly if it's new in theaters, I'll post a quick mini-review, rather than waiting to write a full theme piece about it. So you'll know whether or not it's worth your twelve bucks...

Ooh this is so exciting. It's like my very own re-design, without the re-design. Let me know what you think!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Revenge of the Scribes

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003)

13 Going on 30 (2004)

The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

I’m not usually much of a trend-spotter, but this one was pretty hard to miss. I call it ‘Revenge of the Scribes’ – or, with thanks to Ottawa-area poet rob mclennan, the unavoidable sexiness of journalism.

Think back. It started in the late 90s with a string of best-selling novels: Sex and the City, Bridget Jones’s Diary and the whole Shopaholic series. Carrie and Bridget both hit the screen soon afterwards, and were followed by the ladies under consideration here today: Andie Anderson of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, 13 Going on 30’s Jenna Rink, and, most recently, Andy Sachs of The Devil Wears Prada.

So what do Carrie, Bridget, Andie, Jenna, and Andy have in common? Besides, you know, general physical perfection and the hot co-stars to match? Well funnily enough, they’re all journalists. Journalism, apparently, is sexy. If the films are to be believed, it’s a sexy job for all those sexy young professionals with great hair, nice clothes, and a penchant for hilarious romantic entanglements. (If you’re reading this and you’re also an aspiring writer, you’re no doubt asking yourself the same question I am… Does this mean that if I keep at it long enough I’ll start to look like Jennifer Garner?)

Though it doesn’t make my list of all-time classics, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is still an old favourite. Kate Hudson plays Andie, the ‘how-to’ writer for a fashion magazine – her latest challenge is to get a guy to dump her in less than 10 days, and Matthew McConaughey’s Benjamin Barry is her victim. Sure, we’ve all seen the ‘battle of the sexes’ before. But Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson have great chemistry, and her attempts at being the girlfriend from hell ring uncomfortably true. At times it almost feels like a dating manual, a little reminder of the do’s and don’t’s that sometimes slip one’s mind. It’s light, and fun, and certainly worth an evening of your time. Though I’ve always had one reservation – How to Make Peace in Tajikistan? Did she really think that would fly?

13 Going on 30 lacks the small pinch of sass that makes How to Lose a Guy stand out from the pack, but it still makes a solid helping of chick-flick comfort food. Jenna Rink (Jennifer Garner) is a 13 year-old girl who makes a birthday wish to be ‘thirty, flirty, and thriving’ – and wakes up in 2003 as a high-powered fashion editor. Matt Flamhaff (Mark Ruffalo) is the boyhood friend who has to try and help her adjust. It’s cutesy, and a little silly, and certainly doesn’t take any risks or push envelopes of any kind. But it’s also a lot of fun – Jennifer Garner’s innocence and enthusiasm are hard to resist, while a good soundtrack and Jenna’s amazing closet do their part too. Meanwhile, if he’s a new face to you Mark Ruffalo may seem like an unlikely romantic lead at first, but give him a chance – he’ll grow on you. Judy Greer and Andy Serkis are great in their supporting roles.

The Devil Wears Prada is the most recent evidence of our trend, and to be honest I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it. Anne Hathaway plays Andy, who comes to New York City and scores the job ‘a million girls would die for’ – and the boss from hell. The resulting story isn’t really a comedy, and it isn’t a romance either. But it also isn’t quite a proper drama – I wouldn’t say that I was taken on an emotional journey by the film. I suppose ‘coming-of-age’ might be the appropriate category to file it under, but the central problem which remains is that the movie made me feel neither really good nor really bad; it didn’t really make me feel anything. Still, Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly makes it almost worth watching all by herself, and Stanley Tucci is fabulous as Nigel, Andy’s only ally in the office. Plus, Andy’s boyfriend Nate is hot.

I have it on good advice that How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is actually one that many guys don’t mind watching, so keep it in mind for a date night or a co-ed group of friends. 13 Going on 30 makes solid girls-night fare and would also be good for a night-with-mom, while The Devil Wears Prada is probably more suited to a quiet night in on your own.

Chick Flick Connections:

Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey are both rom-com veterans (she in You, Me and Dupree, Raising Helen, and Alex and Emma, and he in Failure to Launch and The Wedding Planner, for a start) while in the supporting cast Kathryn Hahn has appeared in The Holiday and Win a Date with Tad Hamilton, and Annie Parisse worked on Prime and Monster-in-Law. Meanwhile, 13 Going on 30 may have been a brief detour from Jennifer Garner’s usual stuff, but co-star Mark Ruffalo has made a niche for himself as a nice-guy leading man, starring in Just Like Heaven and Rumor Has It, while Judy Greer has appeared in American Dreamz, Elizabethtown, The Wedding Planner, What Women Want and Jawbreaker, among others. From the Devil Wears Prada cast, Anne Hathaway is of course best-known for the Princess Diaries movies, while Meryl Streep’s most recent chick-flick was Prime. Stanley Tucci has appeared in Shall We Dance, Maid in Manhattan and America’s Sweethearts, and Adrian Grenier (Nate) is, embarrassingly enough, a veteran of Britney Spears: Greatest Hits.

Chicks Who Fight Crime

D.E.B.S. (2004)

Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous (2005)

It’s funny, it seems that an action movie can’t just be an action movie anymore. No matter how many fight scenes, explosions, and bad one-liners, there’s one thing that is guaranteed to earn a film swift expulsion from the guns-blazing, muscles-rippling, guys-will-love-it, VIP-only club of action flicks. Female lead? Forget about it. Guys will refuse to go see these movies with you, and will snicker when you rent them. Regardless of the fact that action movies starring women have identical plot lines to the male-dominated variety (oh come on, when was the last time you saw a man’s-man movie that didn’t have its very own romantic sub-plot?) they are immediately forced into the world of chick flicks. Well I for one will welcome them with open arms.

D.E.B.S. was a pleasant surprise – it was good in the ‘so bad it’s good’ way that chick flicks so often are, where I had expected it to be just plain bad. The premise? The SATs contain a secret test, used to recruit beautiful young women into the government’s prime intelligence agency, D.E.B.S. Now the top D.E.B.S. squad is going head to head with Lucy Diamond, criminal mastermind extraordinaire and – you guessed it – beautiful young woman. The plot takes an unexpected twist early on, but from there it’s comfortably predictable (as any good action movie should be), with plenty of slow-motion walking with guns and a good soundtrack. Jordana Brewster (you may remember her from The Fast and the Furious) is a highlight as the arch-villain herself. The movie is fun, and doesn’t take itself, or the genre it would be a part of if its stars had ‘Y’ chromosomes, too seriously.

It does, however, lack any of the gloriously bad dialogue that can make for endless re-watchings with accompanying movie-themed drinking games. (Think Top Gun: Every time Mav and Ice Man stare into each other’s eyes, angrily but oh so longingly, take a drink. Every time they say, 'it’s too close for missiles, I’m switching to guns,' down your drink.)

I’m not quite sure what to make of Miss Congeniality 2. On the one hand, it gets props for taking the ‘buddy flick’ model into chick-flick land, while resisting any urge to toss in a romantic sub-plot along the way. But on the other hand, I spent a fair amount of time cringing – the movie starts off with Sandra Bullock’s character getting dumped by Agent Matthews, the love interest from the first movie (over the phone, so we don’t even get a look at Benjamin Bratt, sigh). She responds by giving up field work and turning herself into the public relations face of the FBI, with pant-suits and manicures to match. The resulting ‘just be yourself’ moral of Gracie gradually finding her snort again is a bit overdone. Still, it’s fun and light, and the Las Vegas backdrop is colourful. Regina King is unrecognizable from her Ray days as the very scary new sidekick Sam. If you liked the first one, you’re likely to enjoy the second one, too.

The Smartest Chick Flick in the Room?

Josie and the Pussycats (2001)

The Girl Next Door (2004)

Most chick flicks are unabashedly fluffy, and that’s a big part of why I love them. Almost without fail, they follow the travails of a boy or girl as he or she tries to win the heart of his or her favourite girl or boy. Sometimes they follow a girl as she tries to find, or keep, or re-connect with, her favourite crew of girl-friends (though there’s usually a boy hovering in the background there too). But every once in awhile a film comes out that would fall into this genre that somehow has a little more to say. Sometimes it will even pass its message on in a clever or interesting way. And these chick flicks I treasure most of all…

Mean Girls and Drop Dead Gorgeous could both have come up for consideration here, but since I dealt with them in ‘Twisted Teen Movies’, I’ll stick to just two: Josie and the Pussycats, and The Girl Next Door.

I avoided Josie and the Pussycats for years, partly because the girls were always my least favourite bit of an Archie comic (get back to the main story, already!) and partly because I am leery of any film that replaces cartoons with real people. But then I heard a rumour that it wasn’t what I was expecting – that it was actually kind of smart, a bit of a satire. You mean, I asked, it’s not just about a band hitting super-stardom and the tensions of fame on their friendship, not to mention the boy from back home?

Don’t worry, it has all those things too. But yes, it is a satire, about the state of the music industry and our over-merchandized commercial society in general. It’s far from subtle, at times a little too ‘bang-you-over-the-head-with-a-message’ for my taste, but it has some great moments. Missi Pyle provides some great one-liners as Alexandra Cabot, and the spoof boy band DuJour is nothing short of genius – in large part because they’re closer to an accurate portrait of the boy band phenomenon than an exaggerated caricature. And the girls in the band (Rachael Leigh Cook, Tara Reid, and Rosario Dawson) are lovable, while Alan Cumming and Parker Posey are perfect as the music industry villains. The movie’s only real shortcoming is that it tries a little too hard to be smart – don’t let that stop you from watching it, just don’t expect too much.

Meanwhile, The Girl Next Door was an incredibly pleasant surprise, discovered when I was working my way through my stepmother’s entire dvd collection after having my wisdom teeth out. I had passed by the poster in my local movie theater for close to a year, and the posing Elisha Cuthbert (possibly the reason why it stayed on the walls for so long?) convinced me it was just another smutty teen comedy. What a premise! High-achieving student council president meets his new next-door neighbour… a porn star? Sounds more like an actual porno – “Can I…borrow some sugar?”

But The Girl Next Door is smart. And funny. And plenty smutty, too, with a twist of an ending that even my friends who aren’t as woefully unquestioning as I am didn’t see coming. Emile Hirsch and Elisha Cuthbert play their roles well, and the supporting cast of Chris Marquette and Paul Dano as the friends, and Timothy Olyphant as the porn producer, are fantastic. The movie bounces back and forth between an eerily accurate portrait of high school life and a twisted story line that almost seems as though it must be a fantasy sequence in Emile Hirsch’s pretty little head. Rent it, watch it, love it.

Josie and the Pussycats is ideal girls’ night in viewing, and most likely a definite no-no for a date. The Girl Next Door, meanwhile, is a good bet for introduction to the fellas, and makes a great option for either a solo or group night in. It’s not likely to be one you want to watch with your mother, unless she’s particularly chilled. Even then, if you’re anything like me, you may still feel awkward.

Chick Flick Connections:

Josie and the Pussycats is packed with chick flick regulars, starting with Rachael Leigh Cook (best known for She’s All That and Strike!, but look for her in those old stand-bys Tom and Huck and The Baby-Sitters Club, as well as an upcoming Nancy Drew movie!) and Tara Reid (My Boss’s Daughter, Van Wilder, American Pie (and 2), Cruel Intentions). Parker Posey pops up in You’ve Got Mail and Dazed and Confused, while Alan Cumming has a surprising resume of chick flick experience, appearing in Spice World, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Emma, and Circle of Friends. Gabriel Mann also worked on A Lot Like Love, while Paulo Costanzo was my favourite part of 40 days and 40 nights, and that is saying something. Missi Pyle has an uncredited appearance in 50 First Dates. Meanwhile, all four members of DuJour had roles in Can’t Hardly Wait, with Donald Faison and Breckin Meyer also making their names as memorable Murray and Trevor in one of the all-time greats, Clueless. Chick flick stars are thinner on the ground in The Girl Next Door, but look for Elisha Cuthbert in a small role in Love Actually and Chris Marquette in Just Friends. You may also remember James Remar as Richard from Sex and the City.

Twisted Teen Movies

Mean Girls (2004)

Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)

Jawbreaker (1999)

Okay, so maybe ‘twisted’ is a stretch – these movies might just as well be set apart from the bulk of teen-girl flicks by more mundane descriptors like ‘smart’ or ‘interesting’. But I would argue that what makes these three movies special is their use of dark humour – particularly the latter two. So for the sake of melodrama we’ll stick with ‘twisted’.

Mean Girls derives its popularity in large part from its scarily accurate depiction of the North American high school experience. Lindsay Lohan’s Cady Heron, a sixteen year-old who has been home-schooled in Africa for her whole life, is in perfect position to observe what many of us have accepted for so long that we have ceased to notice it, and both script and set are full of small truths that are instantly recognizable but somehow still revelatory. Cynical sidekick Janis’ running tour of the school world (‘the art freaks… the cool Asians…’ etc) is dead on.

This realism is the background for a story that rapidly leaves the typical ‘new girl in school’ narrative behind as Cady attempts to infiltrate ‘the Plastics’ – a trio of the most popular girls in school. The resulting imbalance created in ‘Girl World’ throws the school into chaos, and leaves Saturday Night Live’s Tina Fey and Tim Meadows plenty of room for hilarious roles as the teachers who attempt to restore order. The whole film is smart, funny, and well-timed – though for those of us who have recently experienced teenage girlhood in a public high school, the inevitable happy ending may be a bit hard to swallow.

I’ve never been in a teen beauty contest, so I can’t comment on the realism of the setting for Drop Dead Gorgeous. But as in Mean Girls, the plot quickly departs from the expected and moves into the surreal. The story follows a film crew as they attempt to create a documentary about a small-town beauty contest. Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst) is up against Rebecca Ann Leeman (Denise Richards), and it’s a battle of trailer park versus teen royalty. But things get messy when contestants start dying off…

The movie takes some good shots at the world of the beauty contest, and Kirstie Alley is memorable as Rebecca Ann’s mother, a contest enthusiast and former winner herself. It’s funny, with plenty of dark laughs and shocking moments, but where Mean Girls was often surprisingly subtle Drop Dead Gorgeous opts for a louder, more absurd brand of humour. The Mean Girls approach is a safer one, with a broader appeal – but if ‘safe’ isn’t your thing you may really enjoy Drop Dead Gorgeous.

Moving further over on the spectrum from fluffy to twisted, we have Jawbreaker. The premise is simple: three friends stage a fake kidnapping of a fourth girl in order to surprise her on her seventeenth birthday. But she chokes to death on the hard candy stuffed into her mouth to gag her, and the girls are left with a choice between cover-up or confession. Nice-girl Julie wants to go to the police, while uber-scary Courtney will do anything to avoid risking her reputation.

The plot takes a number of turns as Detective Vera Cruz (Pam Grier – Jackie Brown) follows the girls’ trail. Rose McGowan is perfect as Courtney, and Rebecca Gayheart offers a perfectly adequate portrait of a nice girl trying to do right. There are far fewer laugh-out-loud moments than in Mean Girls or Drop Dead Gorgeous, but the movie is darkly compelling – at times I was left with the feeling that this was the sort of thing that could actually happen. Like Mean Girls, it offers a window into the nature of teenage girlhood; only in Jawbreaker it’s a picture of what could be, rather than what is. The ending avoids any cutesiness and is possibly the most satisfying of the three.

All three of these movies make great solo viewing. Jawbreaker may be a bit heavy for a group ‘girls night in’ sort of scenario and requires a certain degree of attention to follow the plot, while I’d recommend Mean Girls in particular for introduction to a male audience – it’s one of those ones that guys are often surprised to enjoy. If I had to watch one with my mother, I’d choose Mean Girls or Drop Dead Gorgeous.

Chick Flick Connections:

A number of the same people seem to come up again and again in the world of chick flicks – whether as stars or one-liners.

These three movies feature a number of career specialists in the genre – Lindsay Lohan was quite recently the hottest new thing, Brittany Murphy (who appears in a minor role in Drop Dead Gorgeous) has a chick flick pedigree stretching back to Clueless, and Kirsten Dunst is a giant in the girlie movie industry, starring in Elizabethtown, Wimbledon, Mona Lisa Smile, Crazy/Beautiful, Bring It On, Dick, The Virgin Suicides, Strike!, and Little Women. You may not have recognized 'Claudia' from Party of Five under all the fake tan Lacey Chabert donned to play Gretchen Wieners in Mean Girls, while Rebecca Gayheart played Toni on 90210 before she made Jawbreaker. Also spot “Ms Perky” (from Ten Things I Hate About You) in Drop Dead Gorgeous and 'Ashley Banks' of Fresh Prince fame in Jawbreaker.

Definitions, plans, etc.

I thought it would be difficult to come up with a satisfactory definition of the term ‘chick flick’ as I intend to use it, but Wikipedia has pretty well nailed it. Thus:

“The term chick flick is slang, often derisive, for a movie which is designed or considered to appeal mainly to women, and generally focusing more on romance or relationships. Many romantic comedies or films with many female characters are likely to be put into this category. Critics of the term have pointed out that movies aimed specifically at men are not labeled so derisively.”

I should add that I’m not overly concerned with the contemptuous overtones cited above. I suppose you can think of it as a reclamation of the term – like the more progressive uses of the word ‘queer’, or Eve Ensler’s suggestion that women re-take the word ‘cunt’.

(Sidebar: I really, really hate that word and have zero interest in taking it back. There are plenty of fairly offensive terms that relate to women, but this one is the only one that I associate so clearly with violence. If rape was a word instead of an act, it would be cunt. Ugh.)

I should also warn anyone reading this that I will occasionally slide into a consideration of comedies that are nobody’s idea of a chick flick – American Pie and Anchorman spring to mind – and I apologize in advance for these lapses.

As far as content is concerned, I’ll basically be putting down my thoughts on various chick flicks, loved or hated, in roughly thematic groupings. Sometimes this will be by film contents and sometimes by actors, directors, or writers. I’ll follow my musings with recommendations and ratings – basically, is this a movie you should be watching with a boy, with a group of girls, or with a half liter of Ben and Jerry’s and a spoon?

I’ll try to keep it interesting and of course to avoid spoilers. (Does he get the girl in the end? Does he??)

There are so many of these movies out there, and I hope if anyone’s reading this I can help to steer you to the right ones.

How I learned to stop worrying and love chick flicks

This entry was first posted to deva.toadfire.com on May 10, 2006. Toadfire was the first home of "Chick Flicks: The Good, The Bad, and The Fugly" but I've recently decided to move over here to Blogger - partly in the hope that a change of scenery will get me posting more often again! Over the next couple days I'll be posting all of the Toadfire archive, and then I'll get going on some new content.

For a long time I was one of those self-conscious young girls who is most self-conscious about, well, behaving like a young girl. I’d always been a tomboy, but when I hit my teenage years I took even this natural tendency and deliberately exaggerated it. I trained myself to listen to rock instead of pop – a painful regime that included asking for a Stone Temple Pilots tape for my 12th birthday despite having never heard their music, and then playing it over and over until it didn’t hurt anymore – and, later, to drink beer instead of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. I had a horror of becoming one of the many silly, vapid girls that I felt myself to be surrounded by, and consequently I went out of my way to avoid anything I deemed predictably feminine: girly sports, girly music, and, most importantly, girly movies.

I was sixteen, going on seventeen, when this long process of de-girlification began to reverse itself, at least in one area of my life. It was grade eleven: I had my first job, I had a driver’s licence, and both my parents were in relationships that involved frequent weekends out of town – my dad to my future stepmother’s home town two hours away, and my mom to my future stepfather’s cottage at the lake, his main joy in life. The thrill of throwing elicit drinking parties wore off quickly, and I soon settled into a weekend routine of socializing at work and taking some downtime in the evenings. It wasn’t long before I started making regular trips to the local video store.

I don’t remember if I made any initial attempt to improve my knowledge of classic or independent films. I know I certainly never ventured into the horror section – this is where I confess that I actually screamed during Scream – and I could never be sure how bloody or suspenseful a given action movie might be. Inevitably, I wound up in the comedy section.

And there they were. Calling to me... On Sunday evenings the video store was usually near-empty. And I had an empty house waiting for me. No one would ever know…

In the last year or two of high school, my friends and I started going back to the movies more often – our early fascination with drinking had worn off and we were ready to start socializing on more sober terms again. We went to see a lot of what one might call trashy teen comedies, but I at least was still in denial: I was going as a joke, for a laugh, just for something to do. When I was hit with a bizarrely late case of chicken pox in the final months before university, I responded by renting every high school graduation movie I could get my hands on, and spent two weeks in a blissfully numb Benadryl-induced coma in front of the television set. But that was, you know, only because I couldn’t watch a proper movie in that state. It wasn’t because I liked them.

University was a fresh start for me. Almost a coming out of the closet, if you will. I didn’t dress any differently, and my musical tastes and drinking habits generally stayed true to their training, but I was suddenly freed from my own self-image as, well, a girl-hater. No one knew me; no one had any assumptions about me at all. My new friends were distinctly girlier than the high school crew, and though I was still clearly the tomboy of the group I was exposed to a whole new world of vodka and 7up with grenadine, top 40 pop music, and – of course – girls’ nights out to the local movie theater. What started as a guilty pleasure turned gradually to an open enjoyment, and now – four years later – to a proud and loud adoration of chick flicks. Funny or angst-riddled, rom-com or tear-jerker, with or without Julia Roberts and Richard Gere – I love girly movies.

And I’m not ashamed to admit it.