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What Is the Difference Between a ‘Chick Flick’ and A Romantic Comedy?

Are the terms synonymous? One persuasive commenter claimed yesterday that there was a 90% overlap. Do you agree with his take?

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PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates!

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June 11, 2014 - 4:00 pm

In partnership with the new fiction publishing platform Liberty Island, PJ Lifestyle is going to begin promoting and co-hosting a series of debates and discussions about popular culture. The goal is to figure out what works and what doesn’t so that in the future we can promote and create better fiction and culture of our own. These are public brainstorming sessions for writers and culture advocates interested in developing a more vibrant popular culture. You’re invited to submit your answers to any of these questions — or a related one of your own! — that interests you:

A) in the comments

B) Via email to PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle.

C) at your blog, then let us know in the comments or via email. 

The most interesting answers may be linked, cross-posted, or published at PJ Lifestyle. Last Week’s Pop Culture Debates focused on video games, so it seems only reasonable that this week should go in the opposite direction: so how about a week of discussing the best/worst/over/underrated in romantic movies and books?

Also check out the previous weeks’ writing prompts and email in your thoughts on any questions that strike your fancy: Questions To Figure Out Makes Some Adaptations Succeed and Others Fail5 Questions So We Can Figure Out the Cream of the Crop In Popular Music Genres5 Geek Questions To Provoke Debates About the Future of Sci-Fi and Fantasy5 Controversial Questions To Inspire Spirited Debates About Music.

A comment from Reformed Trombonist on yesterday’s prompt asking for the greatest romantic comedies of all time:

Great romantic comedies? Is that a trick question?

Nine out of ten romantic comedies are straight-ahead, unapologetic chick flicks. Chick flicks, as a species, follow a general pattern:

1. Girl pines for her soul mate, while all around her, her girl buddies have guys. She can’t be too beautiful. This is important. You can be too beautiful to make it in chick flicks. I used to call it the “Meg Ryan” Rule: no actress more beautiful than Meg Ryan can make a living in chick flicks. Meg Ryan appears to be gone now, but the mantle keeps bouncing around. Sandra Bullock, perhaps? She might be the exception that proves the rule. Reese Witherspoon? Drew Barrymore? Renee Zellweger? A chick flick actress must be what I call “girl pretty” — that is, girls think she’s pretty, but guys are mostly unmoved.

2. Handsome man appears. Seems almost perfect. Helps if he’s rich or a European prince. He doesn’t need to have much of a character development. Mostly, he’s a prop.

3. Misunderstanding and soul-searching. Maybe she thinks he loves another woman. Maybe she’s trying to succeed in her career and is afraid that falling in love at this time of her life will keep her from achieving her goals. Maybe she doesn’t think he respects her goals. This leaves her free to behave bitchily. That’s allowed. She’s allowed to abuse him, and he’s permitted to take the abuse like a man and still have undying love for her.

4. Reconciliation. On her terms. Why, he may be a Danish prince with more money than Warren Buffett and more charisma than Jesus, but he just can’t be happy until his darling says yes.

The moral of the story is that an occasionally bitchy woman who is less than beautiful (since that describes 99.9% of women movie-watchers, that’s quite a market) she can still bag Prince Charming.

That said…

“My Big Fat Greek Wedding” wins the prize for sheer wittiness.

Apostic called My Man Godfrey a romantic comedy. Funny, he’s right, but I never thought of it that way. I don’t see anything remotely romantic about William Powell’s Godfrey, and he so clearly dominates the picture, I never thought of it as more than a William Powell tour de force. It helped, though, that Carole Lombard was in that movie, the perfect foil to Godfrey’s rare moments of befuddlement.

PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates Features a new prompt each weekday to weigh the good, the bad, the overrated, the unbelievable, and the amazing throughout the worlds of books, film, and TV. We can't figure out how to build a greater pop culture until we dissect the mess we already have. Want to contribute your perspective to the debate? Email PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle with your take: DaveSwindlePJM [@] gmail.com Image via shutterstock/ DarkGeometryStudios
All Comments   (9)
All Comments   (9)
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All romantic comedies are chick flicks, but not all chick flicks are romantic comedies. Lifetime Movies of the Week are chick flicks, but those are mostly trauma dramas designed specifically to appeal to chicks by showing female protagonists getting into various kinds of terrible trouble (domestic abuse, rape, bullying, sociopathic spouse/boyfriend, etc.). Straight-up romance movies which are not comedies are also nearly all chick flicks.

In other words, I think your commenter's estimate is far wide of the mark, unless it's talking about chick flicks that gals can actually get their guys to watch, in which case, yeah, romantic comedies are probably about 90% of that market. (SOME Lifetime Movie of the Week sleazefests are also fun for guys to watch, though. Teeth (2007), for instance: I get to watch a bunch of perverse and foul-mouth guys just like a lot of the wretched classmates I had back in school getting emasculated for trying to take advantage of a clean-cut virginal girl? I'm in!)
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
In taxonomy as it relates to biology, the challenge was always getting the various species tagged and correctly classified. E.g., the fact that worms and snakes both slither along without legs doesn't necessarily mean they're related species. Birds and wasps both have wings and fly, but they are still pretty much unrelated.

So in terms of movies, the question would be, who sees the taxonomical features most clearly.

My position is that the typical Lifetime Channel's feminist agitprop "Men are Pigs" feature films are in a different phylum. For one thing, I would argue that these movies don't have anything relating to a universal feminine appeal; rather, they appeal to a subset of women, the Aggrieved. Any woman who hates men will love those movies. But you find them mainly on TV. Ashley Judd took it to the big screen a couple of times, and I guess those movies did reasonably well. But a lot of men will gladly watch Ashley Judd in a movie. Did you enjoy the movie? Aw, yeah, men. What was it about? I dunno, man, but Ashley Judd is hot!

Ashley Judd is too beautiful to make a living starring in real chick flicks. Maybe in another fifteen years.

The feminist agitprop "Men are Pigs" genre has a relatively narrow appeal, enough to earn its own cable channels, but not much else.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Begging your pardon, but movie categorization isn't really much like biological taxonomy at all. Unlike animals, virtually any movie genre can mate with any other and have bizarre offspring. (Birds and wasps? Heck, if biology were like movies, you could cross chimpanzees with field corn!) Also, the definition I'm using for "chick flick" here has nothing to do with "universal" appeal to chicks, just appealing *primarily* to girls and women.

While Lifetime's movies do often involve a lot of misandry as you say (all the guys are abusive scumbags looking to rape the heroine and maybe steal her children), they also bring the hate for other women (all the other gals are town mattresses or flaming lezzies who maybe also want to abuse and rape the heroine), for children (her child is a creepy abusive sociopath... and maybe a rapist) and parents (Mommy and Daddy are violent abusers... and maybe rapists). The appeal in all cases is "Boy, don't you feel sorry for our poor, put-upon heroine? She's JUST LIKE YOU!"

Yeah, that's a lot of shamelessly self-pitying feminine fantasy right there. It's also primarily made to appeal to girls and women, which fits my definition for a chick flick. Hey, I never said these were *good* chick flicks. I'm sure you can imagine how women would react if we made a movie about a selfish guy being a poor put-upon sap deserving to be pitied because everyone (especially women) is doing awful things to him, especially since The Onion has already written the plot summary for just such a movie: http://www.theonion.com/articles/empowered-man-murders-controlling-wife-in-lifetime,2699/

The point is that they're chick flicks nonetheless. One could make a similar case that certain kinds of movies are intended to appeal primarily to boys and men, what I've heard called "dick flicks" on a few occasions. (That's not entirely a fair label, since it implies that the appeal is primarily to our manly protrusions but... well, it rhymes.) Not all of them are universally appealing to guys by any means either. I would say a fair percentage--maybe even upwards of 90%--of dick flicks are action movies, but only because action mixes so well with practically everything else guys like.

Saying that 90% of chick flicks are romantic comedies, though, would be like saying that 90% of dick flicks are science fiction action movies. A substantial number are, but I don't think it's that many.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
You make some interesting points, and it's very convincing.

But I do want to defend the analogy to biological taxonomy. Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect analogy. That said, I only wanted to communicate the idea that because something shares certain features with something else, it doesn't mean they both fall under the same heading. In football, there is competition, there are winners and losers, the winners reap bigger rewards, it's stressful, it costs money and makes money, people root for their side, it's nationally televised... all of these traits are true of football. They're also true of basketball. And baseball. And hockey. We classify them as "sports".

These same traits are also true of politics. But we don't classify that as a sport.

Here's how my own definition derived: if you walk into a video store (if you can still find one), you walk down one aisle and it says, "Suspense Thrillers." Another says "Horror." Another says "Comedy." Another says "Documentaries." Another says "Drama" (a generic category reserved mostly for movies that are not horrors, suspense thrillers, or comedies, though it may have some traits of each.)

I think, taxonomically speaking, what are popularly categorized as "chick flicks" fall under the heading of "Comedies", or "Romantic Comedies" (to distinguish them from, say, The Stooges). If you ask nine out of ten people what they think of when someone says "chick flick", I think most of them would respond that they think of a romantic comedy told from the perspective of the girl protagonist. I don't think that a "suspense thriller" or a "crime drama" would pop into most people's minds, which is what you're proposing.

But as Apostic pointed out the other day, you could also make a good case that "chick flicks" also include those "ensemble movies" that are more drama than comedy.

If your model and Apostic's are correct, then "chick flickdom" is something that doesn't fit that mold. In terms of animal taxonomy, the analogy would be to refer to "flying animals" as if it were a classification, even though it spans different phyla.

So, the amended definition of chick flick would be that it is not a movie genre at all, but a collection of traits common to more than one genre, designed to... what? To reinforce and stroke a modern woman's conception of herself with regard to her sex and with men as a sort of mythical romantic figure who prevails against all the odds? Something like that?

To be honest, I think you're onto something and you've got me half-convinced.

But there was nothing wrong with my using a taxonomy analogy. As you see here, I used to even to defend your case.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Concur. Chick flix may also be "ensemble" movies, where they get some big name actresses to do a couple hours of dialogue on screen. Results may vary. Compare The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005) vs The Women (1939). Their market is intentionally aimed at women. On the other hand, something like My Big Fat Greek Wedding seems like it should be a chick flick but it also presents the guys sense of alienation from marrying into a culture he doesn't understand -- something I could surely relate to as I married a girl from NZ family. As such, their market was going for men as well as women, which is part of why it was such a surprise hit. It was certainly a broader market than, say, Muriel's Wedding or Shirley Valentine.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
From $75 to $100 million gross.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
A chick flick is insufferable for a heterosexual man, whereas a romantic comedy does not live in the vapid world of a twelve-year-old girl's view of the world. Ironically, these movies and TV series are often written by gay men with a certain odd sexism of low expectations for both the characters and the audience (desperate housewives, etc.)
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
A romantic comedy is FUNNY. Fantasy can be a large part of the story (eg, Grosse Pointe Blank; Kate and Leopold) A chick flick makes you cry... sob... with kleenex (eg, the Time Traveller; The Notebook; The Lucky One; anything based on a Nicholas Sparks story).
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Interesting. I always considered "Kate and Leopold" to be a chick flick, and a particularly aggressive form of it. For one thing... I wrote that the female protagonist in a chick flick is allowed to behave bitchily. Meg Ryan's Kate pushes this maxim to the nth degree -- frankly, her character earns the noun and not just the adjective. Watching that movie with my wife (who loves it), I found myself wondering, why on God's green earth would a man like Leopold (Hugh Jackman) ever be attracted... to *that*?!

That's when you know beyond a doubt it's a chick flick: flames attract moths, not eagles. When a vinegary little flame like Kate attracts and captivates a great eagle like Leopold, you've stepped into chick fantasy land.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
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