Bromances, Chickflicks and the Gender Divide

In "Adam's Rib," Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn are married, but he's the prosecuting attorney and she's the defense attorney in court. Judy Holliday is the defendant. If this movie were made today, would it be considered a chickflick? Or would it star best buds Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson on opposites sides of the case?

My colleague Joe Baltake, who posts here as "Pash," e-mailed me yesterday to say how much he enjoyed "I Love You Man." His observation:  "These guy flicks - 'The 40-Year-Old Virgin,'  'The Wedding Crashers,'  'Role Models'" et al - have been consistently entertaining and surprisingly astute in their observations.  I wish I could say the same for the recent chick flicks, most of which (thanks to the 'Sex and the City' curse) have been preoccupied with expensive shoes, gargantuan weddings and questionable values.  Feel free to disagree. "

I don't disagree, Joe, as you might have read in a previous post about "Bride Wars" and its ilk. What we're seeing at the multiplex is the convergence of the buddy movie and the romantic comedy. The "bromance," or "brotherly romance" -- the platonic love story between two men -- has effectively replaced the rom-com, the romantic love story between man and woman.  I very much enjoyed "Wedding Crashers" and "I Love You, Man."

The good news is that these movies are terrific  -- and show men expressing their emotions outside of the baseball diamond and gridiron context. (Used to be that the only films where men spoke of their feelings or cried was the sports flick -- "Field of Dreams," "Bang the Drum Slowly," "Brian's Song.")  The not-so-good news about the  "Wedding Crashers" effect is that the rom-com,  once a genre that employed  actresses , female screenwriters and directors, has been co-opted by actors and male screenwriters and directors at the same moment that the so-called chick-flick has been co-opted by the fashion and bridal industries who use these film as a means of selling wedding dresses and diamond rings.

But there's another kind of chick-flick, as another colleague, Melissa Silverstein, writes about  this phenom.  "There is a brand of  'chick flicks' that are targeted at younger women (perhaps because it's safer to empower young women): a combination of feminism and girl power that engages the post Title IX generation. " Films like Legally Blonde, Blue Crush, Bend it Like Beckham, and Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants show young women seizing control of their lives. Alas, she writes, movies about adult women are more focused  on the getting and keeping of men.

There's no shortage of great screenwriters and directors -- male and female -- with original things to say about friendships and relationships. What gives me pause is reading about a Hollywood gender-divided into fraternities and sororities (i.e., recent features mapping "Apatown" versus the "Fempire" --  the writers of bromances versus the writers of chickflicks). What gives me pause is hearing Hollywood marketing mavens tell me their tracking figures show that women moviegoers will go to a bromance but men shy away from chickflicks (meaning that the bromances will get the bigger budgets and marketing pushes). What gives me pause is hearing from screenwriters that when they write a competent female character, a producer at the story meeting will suggest that she fall down in a scene so as to be less threatening to the men in the audience.

I don't know what the resolution to this problem is. But I know that making movies that appeal to, and star, those of both genders is a start. If the Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy comedy "Adam's Rib" -- the one about themarried lawyers on opposite sides of an attempted-murder case -- were made today, would it be considered a chickflick? Or would the characters be re-written so that the leads were best friends and be played by Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson?

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