Just a Guy and His Chick Flicks

Although my drinking buddies may find it pathetic, I nonetheless admit to having a taste for chick flicks. But because certain attendees of my health club, especially the ruffians who hang around the bench press machine, will suspect me of having certain, uh, “dark latencies,” let me hasten to add that chick flicks are not high on my entertainment agenda, nor do I seek them out. However, if I do happen to run across a well-made chick flick like, say, The Accidental Tourist, I’m not afraid of screening it. Indeed, I might even shed a tear or two at the exact moment in a film when a chick would. That I would confess to such a girly predilection shows how secure I am in my manliness.

Perhaps the quintessential chick flick is Sleepless in Seattle (1993), and not only because Nora Ephron, a chick, wrote and directed, but because it is in part about another chick flick: An Affair to Remember, Leo McCarey’s 1957 remake of his 1939 Love Affair. So Sleepless could fairly be called a “meta-chick flick,” if one were to use such language. Also, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that in 1994 Warren Beatty also remade Love Affair, despite his sad socialist tendencies.

Ms. Ephron has fun with the chick flick genre, as she shows Annie Reed, the heroine of Sleepless, luxuriating in the weepy sentimentality of her favorite little love story. But what separates the chick flick from other genres of love story? One huge thing is that chick flicks seem to usually have happy endings; difficulties are overcome and lovers get together in the final act. However, other types of love stories often end unhappily; they’re tragic; love is thwarted, denied, not fulfilled. These other love stories are often the creations of men.

As my legions of fans know, I’m a devotee of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo (1958). Vertigo may be for me what An Affair to Remember is for Annie Reed in Sleepless. Despite being very different flicks, the endings of Vertigo and Sleepless have a commonality: they both end in high places. While Sleepless ends on top of the Empire State Building with the two love interests entering an elevator to safely descend, Vertigo ends on the top of a mission bell tower after the woman has fallen to her death with the man standing on the ledge looking down at her. Although it may qualify as a (rather sick) “love story,” I feel confident in opining that Vertigo is most definitely not a chick flick.

Hitchcock made a film that I think of as Vertigo’s counterpart. In fact, I call it the “female Vertigo.” It’s Marnie (1964), and it might just appeal to some chicks. I actually read Winston Graham’s 1961 novel that formed the basis for the movie; got it through interlibrary loan. For all you lonely ladies out there in cyberspace, do know that Marnie gives us Sean Connery at his most attractive; or so I must imagine, as I don’t suffer from any dark latencies, (that I know of, anyway).

In chick flicks, the heroine is usually just fine; it’s her guy who’s messed up, who won’t “commit.” (That word still gives me the willies.) But in Marnie, it’s the female with all the problems. Marnie has a bad case of repression; she can’t remember a serious event in her life and it’s making her miserable. She’s repelled by the thought of being touched by a man, even Sean Connery in his prime. Surely, Marnie can’t be a chick flick, can it? Or maybe I just don’t understand chicks.

Because of their lack of a happy ending, one wonders how well women take to some love stories. Does, for instance, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg qualify as a bona fide chick flick? Umbrellas drips with romanticism, but its ending has a tragic note. But then it was written and directed by one of those Y-chromosome types, namely Jacques Demy. Demy’s wife, Agnès Varda, was also a writer-director, and her Cleo from 5 to 7 deals with a day in the life of a chanteuse who awaits her cancer diagnosis. Her doctor informs Cleo that she does indeed have cancer, but her prognosis is good. Not only that, but in the two hours she’s waited for her verdict she’s met a soldier on leave, and the flick ends on an up note with them looking dreamily into each other’s eyes. Now, which of these two films is preferred by the chicks? I’d guess Varda’s.

Also catering to the emotional needs and mandates of the female of the species is “chick lit”; i.e. women’s literature. And chick lit is also not strictly supplied by women. Take Robert Waller’s The Bridges of Madison County (1992). As I recall, the ladies were quite taken with this little fiction, despite its unhappy ending, and I was intrigued enough to check it out from the library. Although the novel was quite over-written in spots, I found the narrative structure rather interesting; I even read the sequel. But here’s the big question: Does Clint Eastwood’s rendering of Waller’s chick lit succeed at being a chick flick? Of course, the only opinions that matter are those of the chicks.

Most of Cast Away (2000) is about a man’s years-long survival on a deserted island in the Pacific. After years of being marooned, he’s rescued, and when he rotates back to civilization he learns that his former fiancée has married and had a kid. For me, the film is spiritual, and its spirituality extends to the short scene near the end when the former lovers meet again. She’s the love of his life, but he does the decent thing and doesn’t attempt to get her back, which would break up her family. This powerful scene may resonate with chicks, but it doesn’t provide the typical happy resolution demanded by the chick flick. But then, Cast Away was created by men.

Another romantic bummer is The English Patient (1996), which was also written and directed by men. This film points to an element that might help explain the diverging sensibilities of men and women. I may be wrong, but I think it’s this: men’s love stories are often idealized and even “exalted,” whereas women’s love stories tend to be more down-to-earth. Men’s love stories are about ecstasy, union, the one perfect moment when time stops, and … death. It’s the male side of the species that fixates on Liebestod, or “love-death.” Death often seems to figure in men’s love stories. What’s wrong with men that they must mix ecstasy with death? Perhaps it’s due to suffering “the little death” more easily than the gals.

Despite our differences in sensibility, Norah Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle still resonates for me. My favorite scene is probably everyone’s fave: the final scene atop the Empire State Building. At the risk of blowing forever my street cred as a manly man, here’s my favorite moment, it lasts for all of 30 seconds:

Jon N. Hall of Ultracon Opinion is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City.

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