I’m not a huge fan of the term ‘chick flick’ for a variety of reasons. It’s a bit simplistic and somewhat sexist. Can you imagine the outrage you’d feel if someone told you Star Wars was only for boys? That being said, there are plenty of movies that qualify purely as chick flicks. They are usually run-of-the-mill romantic comedies that create unrealistic expectations of relationships while neatly tying up all loose ends in a comfortable 100-minute runtime. Which is both part of the appeal of chick flicks as well as why they aren’t any good. And guys are programmed to avoid them at all costs, or only watch them to appease a potential romantic interest. But there are a few great movies out there that on the surface might come off as chick flicks, but actually are great and insightful films about romance that both sexes can enjoy.
(500) Days of Summer
On the surface, this is a quirky romantic comedy set to an indie music soundtrack starring heartthrob Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the effervescently adorkable Zooey Deschanel. (Seriously, all of the ingredients are there for an extended episode of New Girl.) But what (500) Days of Summer really is about is relationship expectations and confronting a relationship where the people aren’t right for each other. The film gives you the knowledge outright that this relationship has ended, and it proceeds to tell the story in a non-linear narrative examining both the highs and lows of the courtship. JGL’s character has to confront the reality that his fantasy perfect girlfriend isn’t real. It is a film as much about heartbreak as it is love. It is also about how we have expectations of the perfect relationship, and how we deal when we realize these expectations are warped. While it ends on a positive note, there is enough frank and honest look at relationships as well as expectations, that it is more honest and genuine than most. The acting and direction all around are great and nobody will be rolling their eyes at any point during.
Crazy Stupid Love
This is probably the most rom-commy of the list, but it still has enough honesty and heart that it gets a pass. Cal (Steve Carell) recently gets his world thrown upside down as he discovers his wife has been cheating on him and wants a divorce. Suddenly Cal is in his 40s, with three kids, and single again. He befriends Jacob (Ryan Gosling) a womanizer who begins to teach Cal his tactics. But Jacob also might have met his match with Hannah (Emma Stone) a young woman who makes Jacob work for it. To get too much deeper in would get into spoilers, but needless to say, love is tackled for young teens, twentysomethings, as well as middle-aged people in an interwoven story. On the one hand, the film does have familiar rom-com trappings, but there is still something genuine about everything that you won’t feel the entire thing is a drag. It’s well acted and heartfelt by the end, even if it’s forays into genuine earnestness are a bit too short.
Silver Linings Playbook
Director David O. Russell is known for having a bit of a temper on the set of his movies which perhaps speaks to his ability to make arguments and yelling into something of an art. He doesn’t always make it work, but in Silver Linings Playbook, he manages to perfectly display relationships, both romantic and parental, through the messy and grounded scenes of people arguing. The film picks up after Pat (Bradley Cooper) has been released from a short stay at a mental institution after nearly killing the man he found sleeping with his wife. Pat is found to be bipolar and is now trying to reassemble his life with renewed commitment to winning back his wife. He eventually meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who is also being treated for depression. The two connect, but Pat is still focused on his ex-wife that he’s missing the obvious signals. It’s an interesting film, one that tackles mental illness (though take it’s depictions with a grain of salt) and depicts a relationship of two people who are a little more than rough around the edges.
Much like (500) Days of Summer, this is a film as much about relationships that don’t work as much as it is those that do. A romantic comedy starring John Cusack might immediately raise some red flags about what to expect, but Cusack is as much of an anti-hero as he is a hero. After his girlfriend breaks up with him, Rob looks back to the past at the five relationships (and breakups) that got him to where he is today. High Fidelity is a film that gets it’s protagonist right and creates a hero who is also at times selfish and destructive, as well as just a bit snobby. The record shop Rob runs is also managed in part by Jack Black in one of his best roles. Both the past reminiscing and present timeline mesh well. The performances are great all around, and despite coming out in 2000, it doesn’t feel terribly dated (except when it does).
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Breakups are hard, and aren’t made any easier in the age of social media, where you can be constantly aware of your ex even if you’re not trying. So imagine if your ex cheated on you, and was also one of the most popular television stars? That’s the setup of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Jason Segal plays Peter, who randomly takes a Hawaiian vacation to get away from his life for a while after a recent breakup with TV icon Sarah Marshall. However, Sarah also happens to be on holiday in the same resort….with her new boyfriend. It is as much a film about getting over someone as it is about love, but there are more than enough laughs to keep things moving along. It’s another film that perhaps ends a bit too neatly, but that’s Hollywood.