The term “chick flick” has long been problematic, to say the least. There is a loud vocal crowd out there on the internet who will be more than happy to explain to you what’s wrong with it. They don’t need me to add my voice to it. Suffice it to say, it has acquired a negative connotation that undeservedly paints movies labeled as such to be lesser films and/or pigeonholes them to be appropriate viewing for a smaller segment of the population. However, the dismissing of such films bothers me especially in the cases where something that appears to be lighthearted fluff is actually an interpretation of a much older, classic story. I’d argue that for all so-called “chick flicks,” but especially those with a classic inspiration are appropriate and entertaining for a much wider audience than they are given credit for. Literature geeks will probably already be familiar with most of these, but I hope the rest of the world will be convinced to give some of my examples a second, deeper look.
Movie: Pretty Woman
Classic Inspiration: Cinderella
OK I’m starting with an obvious one and also not a direct one-to-one comparison, but let’s ease into the concept, shall we? We have our unfortunate heroine who dreams of a better life. She meets a charming hero who sweeps her off her feet for a limited period of time. A contrivance separates them and she becomes convinced she must return to her former misery. He makes a (somewhat) Herculean effort to find her and we get a reunion implying the lovers will live happily ever after. The script is basically littered with fairy tale references, though I do appreciate the feminist twist on the ending when “she rescues him right back.” If we’re going to read fairy tales to kids, boys and girls alike, there’s no reason the grown-up version shouldn’t appeal to both genders as well.
Movie: The Truth About Cats & Dogs
Classic Inspiration: Cyrano de Bergerac (Edmond Rostand)
A person with no confidence in their looks uses a more traditionally attractive person to attempt to woo the object of their affections. When the ruse is uncovered, the wooed person must decide who they truly love, the one with the looks or the brains of the operation. In 1987, Roxanne starred two guys working together to get the girl and was labeled a romantic comedy, but almost ten years later when the gender roles were reversed in the exact same story, Cats & Dogs was deemed a “chick flick.” Time to dispense with the nonsense and get the 1996 interpretation recategorized so they both get equal attention. No one can argue against the comedic genius that is Steve Martin, but Janeane Garafalo, in her first starring role, is no comedy slouch and both versions are worth a watch by everyone.
Classic Inspiration: Emma (Jane Austen)
I might get some argument on this, but I believe Clueless to be a classic film for our generation, important viewing for anyone and everyone. Yes, on the surface, it’s a parody of the 90’s valley girl stereotype. But underneath it’s a classic coming-of-age tale of matchmaking-gone-wrong that dates back to the early 1800’s and has no less a pedigree in its creator than that of Jane Austen. Some may consider matchmaking more of a “girly” topic, but a) bullcrap, everyone is interested in finding love and b) when you consider the source, finding a husband was one of the few things women of the time were permitted/expected to do, so it’s no wonder that they wrote about it. Major bonus points to director Amy Heckerling for updating a literary classic to make it relatable to a generation living almost two centuries later in such a fun and entertaining way. Who knows, this movie might even inspire you to-*gasp*-read the book.
Movie: 10 Things I Hate About You
Classic Inspiration: Taming of the Shrew (William Shakespeare)
This is one any high school student studying Shakespeare should be grateful to have. It sets itself apart from a pack of largely forgettable teen comedies of its time for two reasons: an excellent cast and a solid story. While there were a lot of movies around this time featuring a girl trying to find the right guy, most of them did not feature the talents of no less than Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Are there zany antics and contrivances? Of course. But they are historically important zany antics and contrivances and they are peppered with deep introspection about the important things in life. It captures the experience of teen angst, from different perspectives, in a very honest way, and makes connections to one of the oldest romances of our time, quite charmingly so. If you or someone you love is looking for an entry point into Shakespearean comedy, this is a great way in.
Movie: Miss Congeniality
Classic Inspiration: The Ugly Duckling
A bit of a stretch, but bear with me. The ugly duckling fable tells the story of an animal who feels like an outcast because his appearance doesn’t conform to those of his peers. Only when he learns what his true self is does he realize his true beauty. Miss Congeniality is the same exact thing, but with slapstick comedy, girl-bonding, and Sandra Bullock’s delightful awkwardness. The title of Miss Congeniality she receives at the end of the movie is basically tells the audience that everyone thought Gracie Lou Freebush was a duck who didn’t fit in, until she embraced the skills that make her who she is and everyone realized she’s actually a swan. If it’s a good enough lesson for your kids, it’s a good enough lesson for anybody. It’s also worth noting, to anyone who tries to argue that this story is “for girls,” that the bird in the original fable is male.
Movie: Save the Last Dance
Classic Inspiration: Romeo & Juliet (William Shakespeare)
This one is not a one-to-one parallel, thank goodness, because the Romeo and Juliet themselves are actually kind of selfish and horrible. This movie version ends much better for two much more likeable characters. Derek and Sara are an interracial couple of starcrossed lovers whom society tells they cannot be together. Much like Shakespeare’s lovers, they meet and fall in love through dance and rivalry between their “clans” tears them apart. When the lead characters are brave enough to each follow their dreams instead of being dragged down by their demons, they are rewarded with a much-deserved happier ending. In some ways, this interpretation can be considered superior to the inspiration, as the teens make positive, well-informed choices instead of rash, romantic ones. This is another good example of a way to get any audience, male or female, young or old, to reexamine both a classic love story and some deeper themes on race and self-esteem.
Movie: She’s the Man
Inspiration: Twelfth Night (William Shakespeare)
OK, look. This is not the greatest movie ever made. It’s actually pretty silly. Then again, so is its inspiration. If you know the play, you know that this was one of Shakespeare’s forays into genderswapping for extreme comedic effect. In the hands of Amanda Bynes, it’s really rather charming. Then the movie throws in a babyfaced Channing Tatum for bonus points. This is a great example of how a movie based on classic work of literature doesn’t have to be serious or boring, it can be really funny and lead to an appreciation of the comedy of another time. In the end, this is just a funny story and everyone can appreciate a good laugh, regardless of the perspective it’s told from.
Women and literature geeks alike will have seen and loved at least some of the movies on this list, but even people who fall into both categories might have written off and never seen some of them. I myself initially dismissed She’s the Man until I learned Channing Tatum’s character was literally named Duke Orsino (As in, Duke is his actual first name. Yes, they did that.) and made the connection for myself. So I encourage anyone and everyone to take a second look at any and all of these movies, and all “chick flicks,” and appreciate them as having more than meets the eye. No genre contains all winners, but it’s also true that no genre should be entirely overlooked by a wider audience because of a false categorization of who it might appeal to. Help the world dispense with the nonsense and let me know what you think of these flicks!