Sunday, 15 May 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #724: Bridesmaids Busts The Chick Flick

Judd Apatow and Paul Feig's chick flick Bridesmaids has over-performed at the box office, earning $24 million to put it at second place after comic book fantasy epic Thor. Joe Flint, Media reporter at the LA Times made a salient point with his Twitter, he says that he's expecting most movie reporters to use the film as evidence that the female audience is under-served, but he thinks its success comes from that it's not like all the other "rom-coms" that are usually aimed at women.

I have to agree, and after I make my case, I think you will too.

I want you to take a minute and think about the films aimed at a female audience from the past five years.

How many can you name?

The names
Sex & The City and The Devil Wears Prada are probably the first ones to pop into your head. Yet a lot more were made, look at this most likely partial list I dug up:
  1. It's a Boy Girl Thing (2006)
  2. Just My Luck (2006)
  3. Failure to Launch (2006)
  4. P.S. I Love You (2007)
  5. My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006)
  6. The Holiday (2006)
  7. She's The Man (2006)
  8. The Heartbreak Kid (2007)
  9. I Think I Love My Wife (2007)
  10. Knocked Up (2007)
  11. Music and Lyrics (2007)
  12. Good Luck Chuck (2007)
  13. The Other End of the Line (2008)
  14. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (2008)
  15. Sex and the City (2008)
  16. 27 Dresses (2008)
  17. Mamma Mia! (2008)
  18. Another Cinderella Story (2008)
  19. My Sassy Girl (2008)
  20. Definitely, Maybe (2008)
  21. Fool's Gold (2008)
  22. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
  23. Made of Honor (2008)
  24. What Happens in Vegas (2008)
  25. Picture This (2008)
  26. How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (2008)
  27. Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)
  28. My Best Friend's Girl (2008)
  29. Over Her Dead Body (2008)
  30. The Break-Up Artist (2009)
  31. Falling Up (2009)
  32. Bride Wars (2009)
  33. He's Just Not That Into You (2009)
  34. Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009)
  35. Duplicity (2009)
  36. The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009)
  37. My Life in Ruins (2009)
  38. The Proposal (2009)
  39. The Ugly Truth (2009)
  40. Did You Hear About the Morgans? (2009)
  41. It's Complicated (2009)
  42. The Rebound (2009)
  43. I Hate Valentine's Day (2009)
  44. Play the Game (2009)
  45. Leap Year (2010)
  46. Valentine's Day (2010)
  47. When in Rome (2010)
  48. She's Out of My League (2010)
  49. The Bounty Hunter (2010)
  50. The Back-Up Plan (2010)
  51. Letters to Juliet (2010)
  52. Killers (2010)
  53. Sex and the City 2 (2010)
  54. Going the Distance (2010)
  55. The Switch (2010)
  56. You Again (2010)
  57. Life as We Know It (2010)
  58. Love and Other Drugs (2010)
  59. How Do You Know (2010)
  60. No Strings Attached (2011)
  61. Just Go With It (2011)
We're talking about an average of about 10 films a year, give or take, that's pretty good for a single genre in this era of shrinking studio outputs. So there goes the claims that women are under-served, at least in the field of quantity. Quality however, is a different story. The bulk of these films, even the commercially successful ones, are usually forgotten by the audience within 15 minutes of leaving the theater. The most common complaints about such films is that they're formulaic, dull, predictable, and rely too much on consumerist fantasy with make-over & fashion montages more dominant than any actual romance.

It wasn't always like this. There was a time, otherwise known as the Golden Age of Hollywood, where "chick flicks" ruled the roost. A lot of Hollywood's output was geared towards women, and not just romantic comedies, but dramas, mysteries, and just about any other genre of film that didn't require monsters, shoot-outs, or slapstick to keep people watching. However, over the decades, times changed, and the female audience began to fall by the wayside in the mind of Hollywood's major studios, at least when it came to feature films. Here's why:

1. NEW MEDIUMS: Television took a real bite out of the women's film market in the 1950s. TV shows, from soaps to sitcoms, whittled away at the time women used to spend going to theaters. The studios responded by trying to turn modest melodramas into cinemascope and technicolor epics, with mixed, occasionally disastrous, results. Big screens demanded big drama, and outside of historical epics a lot of it was lost, especially because of the...

2. THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION: Back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, and of the chick flick, things like infidelity, divorce, and sexual promiscuity had serious social consequences. During the 1960s and 1970s those serious social consequences were, for the most part, swept away. Also swept away was the dramatic weight they carried in anything outside of historical costume drama. So the films got smaller, and fell from audience interest because of...

3. SHIFTING DEMOS: Demos are short for demographics, the mathematical system of tracking the personal attributes, age, sex, income level, and education, of audiences. Back in the Golden Age, EVERYONE went to the movies on a regular basis. Large swathes of the population lived within walking distance of their local theater, and went at least twice of more times a week. Starting in the 1950s things began to change. Communities became less concentrated in and around cities and small towns, became more suburban, more car-dependent, and more spread out. Going to the theater went from an on-foot jaunt, to a automotive slog through traffic to a mall/multiplex parking lot, and every step of that costing money.

As these things developed, the ranks of regular weekly movie-goers went from 75% to around 11% and the bulk of them being males in their teens and early twenties. The sort of movies that women liked became less important as Hollywood caught a bad case of...

4. BLOCKBUSTER-ITIS: Males in their teens and twenties not only went to movies regularly, they would pay to see movies they really liked multiple times. Then they'd buy the home video version.

That kind of customer could turn a regular little action/sci-fi film into a record breaking mega blockbuster, that could not only fill the coffers of the studio making them, but get nice promotions and bonuses for the executives who gave them the green-light. The female audience didn't normally break records, and that made them less important, and projects appealing to female audiences tended to be passed down to the increasingly demographically fractured television market, leaving only "romantic comedies" to serve as "date night" fodder. However the studios weren't going to burn many calories on them because...

5. ROMANTIC COMEDIES DON'T MAKE GOOD FRANCHISES: Think about your favorite romantic comedies.

Then think about their sequels.

There aren't many, and the few that do exist are usually forgettable, and often regrettable. Why? Because romantic comedies are all about the happy ending. The couple ride off in the sunset to live happily ever after. Making a sequel basically tells the audience that all the characters they loved went through was for nothing, now give us more money as we rehash everything all over again.

Space travelers always have a new planet to go to, cops always have a new criminal to pursue, and superheroes always have a new supervillain to foil. Not so with romantic comedies. The studios will keep making them, because they're relatively cheap, unless James L. Brooks makes them, and have a captive audience as the only game in town, but they aren't going to put much effort in breaking the formulas with any originality.

Then along comes Bridesmaids, a low-brow farce with heart, and farts, and now the game looks very different. Of course, since the studios run by their own rules they will go down two different tracks. One will be imitation, and turn the breath of fresh air that is Bridesmaids into the blueprint of a legion of limp imitations, or they will just ignore it, and go back to the same old/same old that they've relied on for decades.


  1. Grits Mahoney18/5/11 9:27 pm

    what about all those freakin' twilight movies? Blammo!

  2. They're more "teen" flicks than chick flicks.