Chick Flicks and ‘High Sentiment’

by Jon N. Hall5/22/17
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 is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City. • (522 views)

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26 Responses to Chick Flicks and ‘High Sentiment’

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    Naturally, as a Hitchcock fan, I’ve seen both Vertigo and Marnie, as well as Spellbound, his previous foray into psychology. Some sort of romance is often at the heart of any Hitchcock thriller; consider the ending of North by Northwest, in which Cary Grant pulls Eva Marie-Saint into his upper berth — and then the train goes into a tunnel.

    As for chick flicks, I don’t know how many I’ve seen. Certainly not the ones mentioned here. My sister and I did see Love Story, if that counts, and my reaction was hardly inappropriate by normal standards.

  2. Jon Hall says:

    Be sure to click on the MARNIE link, “can’t be a chick flick.” It’s a trailer and is quite entertaining, IMHO.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Guilty Pleasure: A movie you like but are embarrassed to admit.

    Chick Flick: Usually features obnoxious helpings of estrogen-laced romance. The men never piss, fart, or belch. They’re always Prince Charming in one form or another. The airy soundtracks alone will usually make a real man’s ears bleed.

    Guy Flick: Lots of explosions. Blood. Car chases and crashes. Endless quips and one-liners after disembowelments. Crudity and vulgarism worn like too much cheap aftershave.

    Both of the above are forms of pornography. It’s low-brow stuff picking the lowest of the low-hanging fruits of entertainment.

    On the other hand, there are movies which contain enough romance to qualify as a chick flick (Notting Hill) but that do not require emasculation of the male audience to enjoy.

    And then there are those films (or other fair) that clearly have women themes (The Devil Wears Prada, The Mary Tyler Moore show) that are so entertaining or clever in their own right, it’s not necessary to leave your manhood at the door to enjoy them.

    But all the above is rather tame compared to the new generation of “chick flick” which is not just drowning in estrogen but in weirdness and victimhood. Black Swan, for me, is the new bad standard of “chick flick.” It’s feminist garbage shorn of even basic entertainment value. I can abide by chicks basting in estrogen-laced movies. Guys, after all, do the same for testosterone-based ones. But victim-based ones whose only value is chicks relating to similar feelings of victimhood is a bridge too far for me.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      If you want a strange romance, albeit in a book rather than a movie, you might try The Quantum Rose by Catherine Asaro, a romance set against quantum physics (she’s bot ha dancer and a physicist).

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        One of the strangest romances was in “Somewhere in Time.” One of my favorite romances was in “Casablanca.” I don’t believe that men object to romance in movies. (And I’m talking real men, not the Vulgarians and/or the metrosexual weenies who infest our culture now).

        What men object to is nothing but romance in a movie.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          One of the Destroyer novels (I don’t recall the title, sadly) involves, among many other things, a romance between a pair of archaeologists who are together only at the very beginning and the very end. The rest of the book, they aren’t even in the same time due to some sort of time warp.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Casablanca is the greatest movie ever made, in part, because it’s got a little something for everyone. It’s got war. Bar scenes. Great music. Exotic locales. Nazis (good villains, that is). Good guys. Bad guys. And morally ambiguous guys (Rick).

            And it has romance. And every romance is surely different. And no woman or man can be the stand-in for all. But I love Ingrid Bergman’s feminine wiles. She loves Rick. But she’s married to Victor Laszlo, both because he is a great man and because “causes” were probably way more important than romances given the Nazi occupation of France and other countries. So in supporting this man, she was also supporting a good cause.

            What a remarkable look at women. They can be manipulative and as coldly Machiavellian as anyone. And they can be wildly loving and passionate. And yet in the end (gadzooks!), it’s a man who has to set her straight and show her what to do. All of this I find very easy to believe if not completely politically correct.

            It’s ridiculous to say “one of may favorite scenes” in regards to this movie. They’re all good. But certainly in regards to the topic at hand, one of my favorite scenes in when Ilsa comes to Rick’s apartment (above the bar) seeking the letters of transit that will give her and Victor Laszlo free passage out of Casablanca and out of the hands of the Nazis. Rick is too bitter to give a rip about Isla’s problems.

            Still, Isla turns on the charm. When that doesn’t work, she pulls a gun on him. And then basically Bogie says “Go ahead and shoot me. You’ll be putting me out of my misery.” So that approach doesn’t work either. And then she melts in his arms and this time it’s real.

            That may be a compressed version of actual events. But this movie disqualifies as being anything near a chick flick because the characters are not simplistic stereotypes. They are complex people. And, in this case, they have complex and competing motivations. And audiences love that (and still do). This is why I so often snarl at the crap out there that is so simple-mindedly dull and stupid. How can they make chick flicks anymore when they’ve lost the ability for romance?

            But clearly there are some good romantic movies still being made. Often they are foreign or independent ones. I’m often surprised how much more stale and politically correct Hollywood films are compared to, say, Swedish ones, the land of the midnight socialism.

            I don’t mind a film where there is the struggle and then the two people live happily ever after. But Casablanca is memorable if only because it had a totally different take on “happily every after.” Imagine a film where duty was balanced with personal fulfillment. It’s almost unheard of today. I’ll have to cue this up again soon.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          One of the strangest romances was in “Somewhere in Time.”

          I might have mentioned this before, but this movie is incredibly popular in Asia, at least it was some time back. Asian women seem to be addicted to it.

          Perhaps because it could never happen.

  4. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I saw “Marnie” when it first came out. I was a boy, but still thought Tippi Hedren was stunning.

    For some reason, I associate “Marnie” with another movie of that time, “The Chalk Garden.” Both had somewhat portentous moods.

    I must admit that I found “Sleepless in Seattle” somewhat silly, but one didn’t have to take it very seriously. I suppose one shouldn’t expect more from light entertainment.

    For a serious love story, I would suggest “Shadowlands.” There is a long-distance correspondence, as in “Sleepless in Seattle”, but it has the advantage of being based on C.S. Lewis’ correspondence with Joy Davidman. No gags in this adult movie.

    I wonder how one would classify “Troy?” After all, it is about men loosing their minds over a woman.

    And although it is not a movie, “Tristan and Isolde” is a very powerful presentation of what crazy love can do.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Troy played too fast and loose with the myths to please me. Some of the changes, such as the portrayal of Achilles (“fleet-footed Achilles” in the Iliad), worked. But they drastically who died changed before the war ended and who didn’t. (In the myths, Menelaus got Helen back and made it back to Sparta, one of the few to end well. In the movie, he gets killed during the war.)

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      The 2006 version of T&I with Franco is a very good movie. May have just delved into the realm of “guilty pleasure” with that one. Still looking for Shadowlands.

  5. Tom Riehl Tom Riehl says:

    My dad used to take me to movies with him when I was young, starting in 1960 when I was 10. He took me to the local theater, which always had a double feature. The main event was shocking to my intemperate and unformed young mind: Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte. Fer cryin’ out loud there was hand chopping and a mysterious, to me, element of sexual mystery. But, my first look at Bette Davis! My prepubescent brain reeled!

    The second feature, which we stayed for of course, was Marnie. Yikes! Tippi Hedren was my archetype for years. Didn’t understand a bit of the movie, but loved it. In defense of dear departed dad, he took me to the first screening of 2001 at the Hollywood theater in Portland. Never knew why I was the only one of the five kids he took to movies, but I sure never complained.

    Ya’ll have a blessed and safe Memorial Day weekend, remembering those who gave that last full measure.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Back in the 1960s, while my cousin and I were attending a movie, there was a promo for Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, which included that ax scene. IT gave me nightmares for days. Needless to say, I’ve never tried to see the movie.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I remember watching “Hush, Hush” on TV. It also was my first glimpse of Bette Davis which is a shame because there’s so much more to her. It was likely decades later when I first started thinking of her as anything but that old, dangerous hag.

      “Marnie” is a good movie but certainly it would be lost on a kid. My most memorable “had to sit through it” movie was the completely awful (at least to me) “The Year of Living Dangerously.” And I was a Mel Gibson fan early-on.

      Speaking of Memorial Day weekend, it’s probably time to crank up some good war movies.

      • Tom Riehl Tom Riehl says:

        It did give me some appreciation for Linda Hunt. Not so much as Silverado!!

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Her character was indeed interesting. I’m not sure why a woman was re-cast in the role of a man, but she (he) was indeed an interesting character.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        I enjoyed “The Year of Living Dangerously.” Of course, I was living in Singapore at the time and knew something of the history behind the attempted coup which had taken place in Indonesia around 1966.

        I just watched another of my favorite movies, “To Catch a Thief”, with Grace Kelly, Cary Grant and the French Riviera. It doesn’t get much better than that. I have to admit Kelly is one of my top three female beauties.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I doubt I could form a list of all the female hotties I’ve seen in a movie. Grace Kelly could well be on the list (she was certainly one of Hitchcock’s favorites). I can also appreciate someone who may not be quite so hot, like Barbara Bel Geddes in Vertigo. One I can mention is Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone. Another is Grace Lee Whitney (Yeoman Rand) in first-season Star Trek.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            I am thinking of beauty and elegance. Overall class. Grace Kelly, Catherine Deneuve and Audrey Hepburn.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Elegance I don’t think I can rate exactly. One thing I will note, in terms of personal qualities, is that Yeoman Rand was very efficient in her duties. There are a couple of good examples in “The Corbomite Maneuver” and “The Naked Time”.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                I’m certainly not a “Progressive,” but there was a kinda-sorta Progressive utopian Roddenberrian image of men and women working side-by-side, equal in opportunity, but still men and women in the original Star Trek. I’ll take this Star Trek vision over the stale, man-hating one of today’s regressive “Progressives.”

                Don’t you love that both Uhuru, Rand, and Nurse Chapel were very efficient competent women and yet didn’t dress like or try to act like men?

                The blandness of unisex would infect later Star Trek series to a greater degree. But even the truly awful (so awful I would rather watch Hayden Christensen butcher Star Wars) Voyager series had the decidedly non-masculine (but still severe) Seven of Nine. (Or, as we called her, Six of Nine.)

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                Seven of Nine. (Or, as we called her, Six of Nine.)

                One wonders whether or not she was responsible for her sealed divorce papers coming out, thus giving Obama his Senatorial win. I’ll say this for her, she looks a hell-of-a-lot better than Data.

                I have to admit I don’t know who Yeoman Rand is.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Yeoman Rand was a first-season Star Trek character, played by Grace Lee Whitney. Evidently she stopped sleeping with Roddenberry, and so disappeared from the series after that. (Note that Nurse Chappel was played by Majel Barrett, who eventually married Roddenberry.) She was basically the Captain’s personal aide.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                Here’s Memory Alpha’s page on Janice Rand. She does indeed look better than Commander Data. I have no knowledge of the couch politics that may or may not have been involved in casting. But she was a good and welcome addition to the crew. Her best moments come in the episode, “Charlie X.”

                Grace Lee Whitney played her part very well. She will always be remembered as one of those primary components that made the series a joy to watch. And so far, so far as I know, she has done little to besmirch her reputation in the way that George “I’m a leftist lunatic” Takei has done. Fair or not, it’s now difficult to watch the original series without sneering at this creep.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                I call Takei George Tackey now. I like the article’s reference to Rand’s clever use of a phaser discharge to heat coffee when the power was out. It also has a hint of that fantastic hairdo, which they didn’t keep in her movie appearance.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Ingrid Bergman. Casablanca. Beauty, elegance, and very much an old-fashioned passionate and vulnerable female (not the modern cliche of the female ass-kicker). But, yeah, Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone is a hottie. And if Yeoman Rand’s skirts were any shorter…well, insert your joke here. She was definitely an Enterprise hottie. Although I don’t think she could act a lick back then, Linda Evans in The Big Valley is A Big Hottie.

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