Recent 'chick flicks' are not just for girls
On a recent Saturday, Shawn James, 16, a high school sophomore, lingered in the lobby of a Manhattan multiplex after an evening watching “Step Up 2 the Streets,” a dance drama featuring slick hip-hop choreography.
“What’s ‘Definitely, Maybe’?” Shawn asked the usher, pointing to the theater next door where the movie—about a thirtyish father recounting his past loves to his daughter--was showing.
“Dude, that’s a chick flick. It’s only for girls,” the usher said.
Hollywood has long failed to attract a large number of men to romantic melodramas traditionally marketed at women. But that may be changing. More men are openly enthusiastic about the genre, with a number of recent Internet-based “Chick Flick” fan clubs for men. And though women in the audience still outnumber men at romance-oriented films--"27 Dresses" drew three times as many women as men its opening weekend in January--new movies melding traditionally “male” oriented and traditionally “female” oriented themes are reeling in more young men.
The initial resistance among many men to watching romantic movies still remains high, especially among young men. “It's so easy to write it off chick flicks as a genre because it contains more emotional interaction than other movies,” said Travis Lehman, 24, a member of the group on the social networking site Facebook for straight men who like “chick flicks.”
The genre’s typical storyline--girl meets boy, sparks fly, they face obstacles that keep them apart but, in the end, their love is consummated, usually with a swoon-worthy declaration--makes some men shudder.
“It’s the Cinderella prototype they offer film watchers that I can’t stand,” said Chris Hill, 17, a high-school junior in Charlotte, N.C., who says he grew up watching “chick flicks” alongside his three sisters. “It is the same crap over and over again. You won’t see that in an action film.”
But Hollywood appears to be luring more men in with a new wave of films that merge traditionally male-targeted “buddy” movies with more traditionally female-oriented romantic story lines. Several, including “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Superbad” and “Knocked Up,” portray the longings and insecurities of the lead male characters. “Knocked Up,” in which a slacker's one-night stand results in an unexpected pregnancy, drew a 57 percent male audience its opening weekend in June 2007, according to Universal. “Superbad,” about two high school guys with nothing on their mind but booze and girls, lured in a 52 percent male audience its opening weekend in August 2007, according to box office press reports.
“Men aren't supposed to like sweet, ‘feminine’ things,” said Austin Shinn, 24, of Conway, Ark. But “films like ‘Knocked Up’ have adapted the ‘chick flick’ sensibility to the male film.”
Shinn is one of many young men who have joined online chat groups for male fans of the genre. He joined a Facebook group for straight male fans of “chick flicks” last November after an awkward experience watching the Disney film “Enchanted."
“I was the only male at the showing,” Shinn said. “I was also very out of place. I'm quite masculine with a beard and a sports jacket. That feeling of discomfort prompted me to seek others like myself on Facebook.”
Other men who are in such chat groups say the genre has the potential for far wider appeal. Movies with romantic themes “are equally entertaining for both" men and women, agreed Matt Sanchez, 23, of Pico Rivera, Calif., who isn’t ashamed to admit he’s a fan of “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail”-–basically any movie with Meg Ryan. “Love and romance is built into all of us.”
Sanchez’s view is confirmed by a few recent studies that show nearly equal enjoyment of the genre by both sexes. Richard Harris, a Kansas State University psychology professor, surveyed nearly 300 college students last year, asking both couples and individuals to recall watching a romantic movie on a date and rate the movies on a 7 point scale. Women rated the movies highly, with an average score just more than 6 points. Men also tended to rate the movies positively, giving them an average score of just less than 5 points.
Other research showed that college-aged men and women both enjoyed melodramatic story lines, but a lot depends on how the stories are packaged.
A University of Alberta and University of British Columbia survey released in February found that men reported enjoying melodramatic fare more when they were explicitly told the story was fiction, not fact.
In this study, researchers asked 492 university students to read emotional melodramas showing main characters overcoming challenges through sacrifice and bravery--classic “chick flick” story lines. Then they filled out a survey about what they read. Researchers were trying to determine the factors that made men enjoy a melodramatic or sad story, where a main character tried to overcome a major obstacle, resulting in a struggle or emotion. They learned that women tend to prefer stories that are based on fact but men enjoyed stories more when they understood that the stories were fictitious.
Men are conditioned to dislike sentimental stories, said Juliet Rhu, one of the study’s authors, but “when they are told it’s ‘make believe,’ they relax their stereotypical notions of masculinity and detach themselves enough to be entertained,” said Rhu.
But even some men who are enthusiastic about the female-oriented genre squirm at some of the male characters portrayed as overly romantic or vulnerable in recent films. In “Enchanted,” for instance, the leading man dresses up like Prince Charming and beseeches a dance with his true love at a ball; in “P.S. I Love You,” a dead husband leaves his widowed wife a series of letters to guide her after his death; and in “27 Dresses,” a cynical male admits to crying “like a baby” at a wedding.
And that makes Lehman, the “chick flick” fan, squirm. “Girls have this way of getting caught up in a movie story, real or not, and some how unknowingly adapting it as their standards,” he said.
“Guys should never be held up to those sort of expectations,” he added. “Life rarely comes with a happily-ever-after ending.”