Monday, 30 January 2012
Five chick flicks I just don't get
‘Chick Flick’. Like ‘compassionate conservatism’ or ‘from the studio that brought you Grown Ups’, it’s a phrase that’s guaranteed to chill the blood of any reasonable cinema-goer. It doesn’t matter who’s in the film, or what it’s about. Chances are, it’s going to star Jennifer Aniston, Katherine Heigl or Kate Hudson. And they’ll spend two hours trying to prove that a woman can have it all - husband, kids, career and a pair of heels so high they’d give a window cleaner a nosebleed. Because Hollywood is convinced that women are all bitches anyway, they’ll also make sure that their photogenic stars repeatedly fall over, and have at least one scene where they look like Myra Hindley staging a dirty protest. Call it the Bridget Jones Factor – “I’m allowed to like her, because she’s just like me. Ha, she just fell in a puddle.”
Less a genre, more a collective noun for toxically inane effluvia, the chick flick machine has squeezed out more than its fair share of cinematic pipe-blockers. Thankfully, their interchangeable nature means that they seldom stick around in the public consciousness. Instead, they’re released intermittently as ‘counter-programming’ for sports widows. But every once in a while, we get a blockage. A particularly stubborn deposit that sticks to the sides because it somehow taps into the cultural zeitgeist of the time. Sometimes, these might actually be acceptable films, such as Steel Magnolias, Notting Hill or Bridesmaids. But all too often, their popularity is as inexplicable as it is infuriating. So here, without any further ado, are the five most bafflingly popular chick flicks. To avoid fainting, keep repeating ‘it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie.’
Remember that trailer for The Shining that someone recut with jaunty music and quirky captions to turn Stanley Kubrick’s bone-chilling masterpiece into a romantic comedy? The same exercise could easily be deployed with Dirty Dancing, repurposing this frothy confection as the cautionary tale of a malevolent paedophile grooming the daughter of a hotel guest.
During the late eighties, my sister fell under this film’s insidious spell, watching it every opportunity she got, and lusting after Patrick Swayze’s hypnotic hips, despite that they were attached to six foot of petrified timber. Given the enthusiasm that many women have for this wretched mess of a movie, it’s weird to think what a negative view of women the film portrays. All the women in Dirty Dancing are either doormats, bimbos, predatory housewives, haughty dancers or thieving pensioners. And don’t get me started on the ‘memorable dialogue’ – “I carried a watermelon” and “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” were never great lines. They were simply punchlines to jokes that nobody had told yet.
Other films set in the sixties usually make a cursory effort to incorporate themes of social upheaval, in an attempt to contextualize the drama. In Dirty Dancing, we’re told that Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman wants to join the Peace Corps, and that’s your lot. Even the abortion storyline is swept under the rug, once Dr Houseman has cleaned up Cynthia Rhodes mangled mimsy.
In spite of a litany of sins against taste and quality, my biggest problem with Dirty Dancing has to do with its soundtrack. Yes, it features a fantastic selection of classics from the likes of Solomon Burke and Otis Redding. But the film’s standout song (which accompanies the big dance scene at the end) is a couldn’t-be-more-eighties MOR mess by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes. Having spent the entire film trying to convince us that it’s the 1960s, the producers throw it all out of the window in favour of an anachronistic, over-produced ballad that has no business in a period piece. They might have had the time of their lives, but this is 100 minutes I won’t be getting back.
Let me state for the record that I love ABBA unreservedly. The melodies, the production, the voices, even the lyrics, have a timeless quality that refuses to diminish with each passing decade. I also enjoy musicals, because I’m able to suspend my disbelief when someone bursts into song. To my mind, it’s no less dramatically valid than a Shakespearean character breaking the fourth wall with a soliloquy.
So why is it that watching Mamma Mia was like being face-raped by a bull elephant with anger management issues? Maybe it was the fact that the entire plot had been lifted from a ropey 1980s Shirley Conran novel (ask your Mum). A young girl finds out her mother was a slut, so she invites three potential fathers to her wedding to find out who’s the daddy. Of course, she could have just taken a blood test, but ABBA never wrote a song about DNA matches.
Perhaps I just failed to get caught up in all that joyful exuberance, finding the sight of three middle aged women jumping on a bed to be almost offensive in its lazy light-heartedness. For a film that sold itself on being a great night out, it managed to make waterboarding feel like a more rewarding way to spend an evening.
The crew clearly spent lots of time in the Greek islands to score some great location footage, but most of the film is shot in a studio set less convincing than the Spanish resort in Duty Free. And then there’s Meryl Streep, a woman so used to acting her socks off that she’s forgotten how to come across like a regular human being. This gives the film a curiously unnerving tone, as she constantly looks as though she’s going to burst into tears, or laugh hysterically and start hacking at her hair with a steak knife. The only saving grace is that she can at least hold a note, which is more than can be said for Pierce Brosnan, who is to singing what Amy Childs is to comparative theology.
What happens when you take the romantic comedy and British whimsy of Four Weddings, and blend it with a multi-strand, Altman-esque anthology of overlapping vignettes? If you’re anything like me, you get a splitting headache and an overwhelming desire to firebomb Richard Curtis’ Notting Hill townhouse. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to listen to people extolling the virtues of this aimless, self-indulgent mess. But it’s probably as many times as I’ve gone through my Facebook account and defriended people with extreme prejudice. There may be a link between the two.
In a film full of risible dialogue and unrealistic archetypes, I reserve particular scorn for 11 year-old Thomas Sangster. In arguably the worst scene of the entire film, the smug prepubescent attempts to motivate his father (played with somnambulant indifference by Liam Neeson) by saying “Let’s go get our asses kicked by love.” Tell you what, if love fails to show up, I’ve got some heavy boots to break in.
If the gossamer thin characterisations and contrived scenarios don’t irritate the piss out of you, watch it again and count how many ethnic minorities have been cast in incidental roles. Curtis got his knuckles wrapped for making the population of Notting Hill look like the EDL, so he made a concerted effort to portray a more diverse London in this follow up. The problem is, every single minority character is expected to stand in the background and be thankful for the visibility, because Curtis has no idea what else to do with them. I guess complaining that it’s all so white and middle class is ultimately an exercise in futility, since the only estates Curtis knows are the kind with stables and a boating pond.
Sex and the City
HBO’s groundbreaking comedy drama (the studio would probably like to call it a ‘dramedy’ but I can’t bring myself to use the word) was a pretty good show. Well cast, tightly written and occasionally hilarious, Sex and the City ran for six seasons and bowed out gracefully with a happy ending for its four main characters.
But what worked in slender, 30 minute installments took on a whole different tone when stretched over two and half hours. Suddenly, the four women who were the backbone of the show came across like grasping, venal, self-absorbed hags. Deliberately sabotaging their own happiness and sulking when they didn’t get their own way, these were not likable everywomen. They were the one-percent in fuck-me heels.
The first film was bad enough, but the sequel plumbed new depths of awfulness, with an extended jaunt to Abu Dhabi that showed Samantha, Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte up for the culturally insensitive whores that they are. And what led our plucky heroine to the Middle East in the first place? She was running away from her awful husband, because he bought her a giant plasma TV. The thoughtless, insensitive cunt.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Produced by Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson, MBFGW was a surprise sleeper hit in 2002, racking up quarter of a billion dollars in the US alone. But when a quirky title is the funniest thing about your film, there’s clearly something wrong. Writer and star Nia Vardalos was trumpeted as the next big thing, but as the three people who endured follow-up Connie and Carla can attest, the success of her debut was a momentary aberration.
The film seemed to take the view that stereotypes can’t be offensive if you belong to the community being satirised. But since it also misunderstood the definition of ‘comedy’, we can hardly hold it accountable for lacking nuance. The ad campaign for the film, which only seemed to get commissioned once word-of-mouth had already landed it in the black, had audiences flocking to cinemas expecting a laugh riot that would make Airplane! look like a Lars Von Trier film. Instead, they got an old woman who thought vegetarians could eat lamb. And I guess houmous is funny if you say it enough times.
But wait, there’s a real message in this film. It tells us that outdated perceptions of gender are a bit old-fashioned. And that plain women should pretty themselves up with a bit of make-up if they want to land a husband. Revelatory stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. Ultimately though, we need to remember that this is more than just a movie – it’s also bequeathed us a rich cultural legacy of tawdry TV shows with ‘My Big Fat’ in the title. Thanks for that. Thanks a bunch.
Posted by Gareth at 23:01