Thursday, 14 February 2013

Hollywood ♥ Chick Flicks

A lot of words come to my mind when I think of Valentine’s Day: Heart, girlfriend, kiss, love, romance. But with anything associated with love I also think of heartbreak, darkness, regret, mistakes and pain. I am not exactly lucky in love.
But today is a Happy Day! A product of media, culture and marketing designed to make people feel good. So, rather than playing my violin, in a forgotten back alley under the vulgar, pink, flickering neon sign that reads FOREVER ALONE . . .
I will do something a little more upbeat; and, of course, something to do with the theme of the day: love.
So, in that regard, I have been thinking about ‘Chick Flicks’. Also known as Romance Genre Movies, Chick Flicks are films that romanticize the ideals of, well, romance. And, since I am a Man, I (like many other men) despise Romance Movies. But, they don’t all suck. Some of them are even watchable, and it is those films that I want to talk about. The Tolerable Romance film, an elusive beast. For this article, I have endeavoured to list my TOP 10 BEST CHICK FLICKS (that I as a guy enjoy).
Unfortunately, chick flicks don’t really do ‘romance’ justice, so I can’t use that as my word of the day (as was my plan), but since most romance films seem to be all mushy and sweet and unbearably happy, I found a more appropriate word.
The Word of the Day is ‘SACCHARINE’.

Saccharine /’sakərən/ adj. 1. Of a sugary sweetness: a saccharine smile. ♦n. 2. A synthetic crystalline compound 400 times as sweet as cane sugar and often used as a sweetener by diabetics. Also, saccharin.

Yes, I do hate romance films. To me, the problem is that it is so boring. Person + Person = Love.
Congratulations, you now know the plot of every romance movie, ever. But that is quite cynical. The truth is, there are a lot of facets to love, and a million ways to show it and play with the idea. In fact, that’s exactly why I hate chick flicks so much.
There are so many opportunities to explore Love, yet in these films it all boils down to the same Hollywood formulae: Love Triangle; Rom-Com; Boy meets Girl; Mid-Life Romantic Crisis; Manic Dream Pixie Girl & Teen Romance.

Why do women put up with this crap? Well, probably because it’s so sweet and they have this thing called ‘empathy’. But I don’t, so I prefer my romance to have a little more story and a little less ‘perfection’. Also, if at all possible, nudity and action scenes.
Now, because I hate chick flicks I tend to avoid them. This means that my sample source of the romance genre is skewed to chick flicks that I’ve either seen incidentally or that have slipped under the radar in the guise of other movies. But I have indeed, seen enough to have an opinion. In fact, more than enough, and so, before we get started with the ultimate top ten list, here are my HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Definitely, Maybe

Thanks for trying to spice things up, by mixing romance with  ‘mystery’. A novel concept, which was done quite well considering. And hell, I’d like to see another attempt at this, even though the idea is ultimately flawed.
The problem is that they were a little too ‘romance’ and not enough ‘mystery’. What they really needed was a character more like Alfie, who could have slept with hundreds of women (a laundry list of ‘romance films’ usual suspects), while still being endearing. Just think: a philanderer telling the story of the woman who tamed his wild ways. Could be fun for everyone, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not what this movie was. They did everything they could to make Mr Main Character not seem like a woman-juggling jerk . . . but they couldn't help it because that’s what needs to happen for romance/mystery to work. So, while this was a fun tryst, I did not enjoy the end result. A pretty forgettable experience.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Well, videogames are one way to get guys interested in Romance. Unfortunately, it made no goddamn sense. And rather than making ‘romance’ better by association, to me it made ‘videogames’ worse by association. Perhaps I would have liked this better if Scott had been less of a whiny bitch. He dates a highschooler he doesn't love; he cheats on her; he complains that his girlfriend is ‘fickle’; he moans about being a protagonist & he doesn’t seem to appreciate how awesome this Canada/Arcade Game world is. I also hate Seinfeld references. But it gets an honourable mention because the fight scenes are cool, the romance is somewhat believable and it is, on occasion, funny. Perhaps if we split those elements into three different movies, I would have three more films for top ten lists, rather than one honourable mention. Just saying.

But that’s enough of that. So for you guys who, this Saint Valentine’s Day find yourself forced to sit on the couch, with popcorn and chocolates, wrapped around your loved one and forced to watch a Romance Movie – here are some you can suggest that won’t leave you puking from early-onset diabetes.

Okay, let’s get started!


10. Romancing the Stone

I don’t like the idea of romance novels. They just seem like vapid pulp. But this story plays with the idea. The main character is a romance novelist named Joan Wilder. And this is the story of her getting dragged into an epic adventure, involving shady smugglers, Colombian police, alligators, rain forests  a giant emerald & of course, the dashing Jack T. Colton. This is a romance, but sometimes you forget that. I mean, the title says ‘Romance’, Joan is a ‘Romance writer’ and the end is certainly romantic. But this feels more like Indiana Jones than Bridget Jones.
For me, it’s almost like the writers decided to write a romance, then they got bored and cut out all the crap about ‘loves me, loves me not’ filling in the remainder of the movie with an epic adventure. The only reason this goes so low on the list is that while they tone down the romance crap, it scrapes in just by a hair.
With an ending like that (which you have to see, ladies) I can’t help feeling like I’ve sucked on a sugar cube at the very end. But the story is worthwhile.

09. Kate & Leopold

You know what more stories need? Time Travel. But this isn’t a sci-fi epic. Kate & Leopold is just a regular old Romance plot . . . but the potential suitor for our workaholic leading lady is actually a perfect, English gentleman from the 1800s, as in literally. By jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, Leopold the Duke of Albany falls through a ‘time hole’ that drops him into modern Brooklyn and into the arms of some woman played by Meg Ryan.
This was the first film I saw that convinced me not all  Romances suck, and that’s probably Hugh Jackman’s fault. He acts his pants off in this character. And the other folk in this story are often funny and add to the world. But the story, ultimately, is where this excels. I mean, the romance nonsense between the two is just adorable, but it’s funny and clever because of Hugh Jackman; and for me, some of the ‘man out of time’ stuff (especially chasing after a mugger on a white horse) was so ridiculous, I enjoyed it like a parody of romance films. But the story is essentially that Leopold must return to his time, or risk altering the timeline drastically.
Will he remain, and let the world suffer without his inventions of the past, or travel back in time and be without his beloved, modern woman.
A fun film in its own right, but this goes low because, again, this is one most fellas would baulk at. I mean, Meg Ryan? REALLY?

08. The Notebook

Okay, I know what you’re probably thinking,
  “Hey! These are just regular chick flicks! I’ve heard of ‘The Notebook’, that’s not a film I’d like!”
I recommend all men watch this film. Because the one thing I wasn't expecting when I heard ‘best romance film’ was that the main characters would fight as much as they do. In fact, they get together at the beginning of the movie in a summer romance - rich girl, poor boy – and they think they’ll be together forever. But then they aren't. They split up, and go their separate ways.
Not only is this realistic, but it makes for a much sweeter story. Not only does it mean I feel the tension between the two characters, but I actually care because they seem like real people in the real world. As their lives go on, you can see that they regret not falling for the cliché summer romance story, and wish they had something more.
There’s also this framing story of an old man telling a woman at his nursing home a story from his Notebook. I thought this was an excuse to make the story more of a fairytale, but the film doesn't go there. They stick to their guns and pull out a much more cynical story, that still finds the romance in love. In fact, this is one of the few films that I would call a romance rather than ‘chick flick’, because I believe it’s smarter than that.
The only reason it’s so low on the list is because I didn't like the ending. It’s not that it’s sappy, or bad. But how you feel about the ending depends on your own preferences I guess. I happened to feel pretty let down, and while I didn't tear up, I think some ladies might.

07. The Illusionist

One late evening, Chief Inspector Uhl steps into the crown prince’s private chamber to give the monarch his full report, about one ‘Eisenheim the Illusionist’. He explains from the very beginning the story of how a boy fell in love with a young girl. Rich girl, poor boy, we’ve danced this dance before, and they eventually split up, because the girl is a duchess. But what makes this more interesting is that when the boy grows up, he gains his own form of authority by becoming a magician, with the stage name ‘Eisenehim the Illusionist’.
Upon visiting Vienna, he chances upon his childhood love, now a woman and the fiancé to the Crown Prince of Vienna. When he learns of her husband’s brutality, Eisenheim not only falls for her again, but using his tricks, he begins to infuriate the king.
And then when the woman is murdered (and the King the most likely suspect) Inspector Uhl steps into the ring to investigate who is responsible. His power is little, but enough to inspire, and Eisenheim begins to spur revolution in the people of Vienna. The King, The Magician, The Policeman and The Girl – the play between these characters is a complicated chess game of intrigue, magic and ultimately love.
I would tell more, but alas this is ultimately a mystery and I dare not spoil the ending. But this is a great story of how even a single man can defy a king, with nothing but a brilliant mind, a few magic tricks & the love of a woman.

06. Titanic

I know you’ve probably seen this already. But, it’s a good movie. Some have even analyzed it to say that the story dabbles in the concepts of cynicism vs. idealism, others say this is the most unnecessarily expensive romance ever filmed. I say that it has a great story, and even steps into the realm of ‘art’ if you’ll let it.
Of course, everyone has seen it (or should have by now), and the story is very much romance (besides the sinking, of course). But the reason why I don’t like this film is because, after reviewing both films, I believe this film is almost exactly the same movie as The Notebook.
Seriously, watch them side by side. There’s difference in tone in some places and focus in others. But look at it:
Poor girl, Rich Boy; Split by social class; The Girl has a Husband; Frame Story from an Elderly Citizen; Tragedy ultimately Befalls the Two.
Admit it, James Cameron, this film is just The Notebook on a cruise ship! Tell me you’ve never seen it, I dare you.
But claims of plagiarism aside, this is worth a watch. If you don’t want to watch the romance, you can always hang around for the sinking of the ship, which is both amazingly shot and very dramatic. Just be careful ladies, a lot of people get teary-eyed by the time the credits roll around.

05. Love Actually

I have been known to say: “Romance is not enough carry a story on its own.”
And this is very true, there’s often not enough for a full novel, or movie, with just love. You have to throw something else in there. In the case of this film, they take that ideal, and turn it around.
If a romance isn't enough for one movie, what if we just make nine short movies about romance, and glue them together?
Sounds fun, like the ‘packet of smarties’ version of romance films. But this is more than just nine identical romances with different names. Each of these stories has a different ideal hidden in there, and a different tale to tell:
The rockstar who writes crappy love songs, but has no love himself; The best man, who is in love with his friend’s wife, and is having trouble hiding it; The writer, who loves his Portugese housemaid, despite the language gap; the husband, who feels guilty for his interests in his young secretary while his wife cares for the children; the prime minister, who falls for one of his staff, but feels trapped by his position of authority; the young son, who gets his widower father’s help to pursue a classmate; the lonely woman, whose attempts at love are foiled by her devotion to the mentally ill brother she cares for; The Englishman, who travels to America so his ‘foreign’ accent will be an asset in finding a girl & The two body doubles, who chat comfortably when naked on set for a sex scene, but when clothed become adorably shy as they pursue a relationship.
This has a lot of fun and humour in the awkward romances of these Brits, but also dabbles in the drama for a few of these stories. It also features a fun game with how each of these stories is linked, however slightly, with each other, through business relationships, family, friends, or celebrity.
But there’s one thing about this film that I hate:
It is because of this film that other shows like Valentine’s Day & New Year’s Eve, have been allowed to exist. They merely stole the style and ensemble class but forgot to include the skill, pacing, characterization and drama of the original, settling only for cliché and sugar. I hate those goddamn movies!

04. Easy A

The trials of the pseudo-slut. I like this film, partially because it hates cliché romantic comedies as much as I do, but moreso because it sees their potential, and seeks to evolve the genre into something more than cliché.
The concept from the trailer:
  “What if a girl pretended she was sleeping around?”, was stupid. But this is a actually a very clever story, playing with the original novel "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
The frame story is that our main character, Olive Penderghast, is  filming a webcast on her computer, explaining her story.
She explains that after a rumour about her promiscuity spreads through her high school like wildfire, she enjoys her new popularity [here popularity should be read as infamy] and so pretends that it's all true. Things escalate until everyone thinks that she is actually a prostitute, getting paid to have sex with her fellow students. Not only is there a lot of comedy, of how other characters react, especially her parents, but when guys actually start treating her like a whore, there's a lot of drama as Olive realizes this isn't just harmless fun anymore.
A lot of the characters in this film are very clever, and it's Olive's narration that sells the comedy factor here.
And just like Romancing the Stone, this film doesn't dwell on the romance so much. But then again, the whole film is about it. There are many references to other high school romance films, and there's a lot of fun to be had here. But as much as they deconstruct the genre (and "The Scarlet Letter"), and there's a lot of fun and comedy while they do, this is still a Romance film in the end. And despite that, it is very much worth your time. Give it a watch.

03. WALL-E

This film is adorable. They play with the rich girl, poor boy ideal, but this time with WALL-E being an outdated robot, while EVE is one of the most advanced robots around. And just like most of these kind of films, she reacts to him coldly, but this time only because she is following her programming.
Eventually, WALL-E finds himself pursuing her, but taken to the extreme as he is taken away from his home, Earth and into the depths of space!

The most amazing thing about this film is that the robots barely speak at all, outside of very simple speech commands that they are programmed with (and a few they can pick up on the way) this is told in the style of a silent film.
And the emotional centre is WALL-E, who manages to show many of the necessary emotions this story needs through tone, action and the expressions of WALL-E’s ‘camera lens’ eyes. The animation is stunning, and the story is not only clever in parts, but is also a lot of fun with physical comedy, character and of course the cute interactions between WALL-E & EVE.

The idea alone, of a Romance with Robots, is enough to fascinate me, but they pulled this off very well. You’ll be surprised how much you care about a crummy junk robot.

02. Shall we Dance?

Yes, I know that Richard Gere is not the best actor when it comes to movies men will like. But this movie is a pass, for me. Why?
Well, for one thing, he’s old. I saw him in Pretty Woman, and hated it [I think they should have kept the 'drug addict' part of the prostitute character]. But here, he’s much older. As John Clark, he's too old for a chick flick, and that kind of meta aids in the portrayal of this character. An older man, who is not elderly, but is getting along in life. With a wife, kids and a successful job, he has everything he could possibly want.
But he’s not really happy.
He’s a lawyer who helps people write their wills, and this helps the character, and the audience, in wondering what life is really worth. He just feels unfulfilled. But one night, on the train home, he sees a beautiful woman in the window of an old dancing school, and so joins up hoping he’ll get to see her. As he continues his lessons, Mr Clark starts to enjoy dancing, and starts to make new friends, who provide much of the comedy.
As he continues to dance, he hides it from his wife, Beverly, and so she starts to suspect he is seeing another woman. The drama here is subtle, while the comedy and fun of the dancing school give this film the heart it needs to keep me interested.
And the film’s tension builds up with the crescendo of a dancing competition as John’s wife starts getting to the bottom of her husband's secret life and finally the two clash, and John must tell her the truth.
I love this film because it is a proper Romance film. Not some sickly sweet film about love, but a story about romance, and how love can feel empty without that little spice of romance.
A must see, I reckon. My only warning to the fellas is, If you watch this film, your partner might want to start ballroom dancing. Just . . . be aware of that.

01. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Have you ever broken up with someone? If not, I am sorry, but you’re probably going to. There are some who find their true love the first time, but for most of us, we will find someone, fall for someone, and be forced to split for one reason or another. It’s often hard to get over . . . so wouldn’t it be great if you could just forget?
In this film, Joel Barish runs into his girlfriend, after they recently had a huge fight and broke up, but she remembers nothing about him. Joel tries to find out why, and learns that she visited a small company called Lacuna Inc., which possesses a technology to enter your brain, scan for certain memories, and erase them. So you can, in effect, erase all memory of a past relationship.
It seems pretty simple, just lie back, go to sleep, and let the machine do its work. But when Joel signs up, so he can also forget about his and Clemetine’s relationship, he finds himself living through those memories.
He watches and lives through these scenes again, as the machine deletes them. As more and more memories are taken away, the good and the bad, Joel begins to regret the procedure. He realizes that he doesn’t want to forget, and so he decides he wants to remember Clementine. So he starts to fight back, doing everything he can to save his memories of her from being deleted.
In this film, Jim Carrey acts his ass off. He’s serious enough to pull off the heartbroken man, while being silly enough to get away with the unrealistic sci-fi elements of this story. But what sells this movie to me is that it has a pretty good message, which I believe speaks to everyone. Sure, this is about one couple, but the film begs the question:
If you could erase a past relationship, would you do it?
It’s the kind of two-in-the-morning drunk rambling that really opens your mind, and this film does everything it can to answer that question in all of its grisly and glory.
If you like Science Fiction, Comedy, Drama & Romance, you will love this film.

Well, that’s it, I guess. That's my top ten. If you disagree with anything I've said here, feel free to go outside, find a particularly large brick, and chew on it until your teeth bleed. This is my opinion, so it doesn't matter if you agree or not.
However, I admit that I have not seen every romance film there is. So if you think there are some films that I haven't seen that deserve a place on this list, feel free to let me know and I might try to watch it.

If you're a little bored, why not try to count how many times I used the word cliché in the course of this article?
If you're looking for me, I'm gonna go see how many of these films I actually own on DVD, and watch as many as I can before I start crying.

Until next time, I Love you All.


  1. Scot Pilgrim vs. The World is not a chick flick!

    *chews on brick*

    Here is one I demand you watch immediately:

    Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

    Preferably, watch it with someone who can laugh and have a good time with you because it's kind of a classic, and more than a little ridiculous at the same time. You'll love it.

    1. "Scott Pilgrim" counts as a Romance, since that's the main bent of the plot. But you're right, it wasn't really made for "girls" so culturally speaking, it is not a Chick Flick.
      But I stand by my vote as an "Honourable Mentions" because the purpose of the mentions is to congratulate films that at least 'tried' to make me give a crap about Romance. They ultimately failed, but it's nice to now some of these directors "Try and then fail" rather than "Try to fail" as most chick flicks do . . .

      As for "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", I'm really not fond of old romance films, since they're usually screwed over by the Hays Code.
      But it's a classic in it's own right, and I'll see if I can hunt it down. I think Mother has it on video . . .

      But I warn you: If I watch it, and it sucks, expect bile, swearing and a lot of mean things.


Feel free to make suggestions, ask questions & comment . . .
I would love to read your words.