Movie Story Type: Chick Flick

July 16th, 2013 by

In Hollywood movie circles, there are genres like Horror or Science Fiction, cross genres like Action-Thriller or Drama-Comedy, and sub-genres like Romantic Comedy or Mystery Thriller.

Then there are story types, a shorthand way to describe a specific narrative conceit that is almost always tied directly to the movie’s central concept. They can be found in any genre, cross genre, or sub-genre.

In July for this series, we will explore 31 of these movie story types, one each day. Knowledge about and awareness of these story types can be a boost not only to your understanding of film history and movie trends, but also as fodder for brainstorming new story concepts. Mix and match them. Invert them. Gender bend them. Genre bend them. Geo bend them.

Movie story types exist for a reason: Because they work. Hopefully this series will help you make them work for you.

Today: Chick Flick.

Per Wikipedia:

“Chick flick is a slang term for a film mainly dealing with love and romance designed to appeal to a female target audience.”

Some examples of chick flicks:

Love Story (1970): Harvard Law student Oliver Barrett IV and music student Jennifer Cavilleri share a chemistry they cannot deny – and a love they cannot ignore…

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974): A recently widowed woman on the road with her precocious young son, determined to make a new life for herself as a singer.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981): Dual love stories of two actors and their relationship as they play the roles of fictional lovers from a novel adaptation.

Dirty Dancing (1987): Spending the summer in a holiday camp with her family, Frances (‘Baby’) falls in love with the camp’s dancing teacher.

Steel Magnolias (1989): A close-knit circle of friends whose lives come together at Truvy’s Beauty Parlor in a small parish in modern-day Louisiana.

Ghost (1990): After being killed during a botched mugging, a man’s love for his partner enables him to remain on earth as a ghost.

Thelma & Louise (1991): An Arkansas waitress and a housewife shoot a rapist and take off in a ’66 Thunderbird.

Sleepless in Seattle (1993): A recently-widowed man’s son calls a radio talk show in an attempt to find his father a partner.

The First Wives Club (1996): Reunited by the death of a college friend, three divorced women seek revenge on the husbands who left them for younger women.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998): On a vacation to Jamaica, a successful businesswoman falls in love and rethinks her life priorities.

Bridget Jones Diary (2001): A British woman is determined to improve herself while she looks for love in a year in which she keeps a personal diary.

Love Actually (2003): Follows the lives of eight very different couples in dealing with their love lives in various loosely and interrelated tales all set during a frantic month before Christmas in London, England.

The Notebook (2004): A poor and passionate young man falls in love with a rich young woman and gives her a sense of freedom only to be separated by their social differences.

The Devil Wears Prada (2006): A naive young woman comes to New York and scores a job as the assistant to one of the city’s biggest magazine editors, the ruthless and cynical Miranda Priestly.

Sex and the City (2008): A New York writer on sex and love is finally getting married to her Mr. Big. But her three best girlfriends must console her after one of them inadvertently leads Mr. Big to jilt her.

The Vow (2012): A car accident puts Paige in a coma, and when she wakes up with severe memory loss, her husband Leo works to win her heart again.

One key to understanding the psychological draw of chick flicks is this: relationships. Whether romantic, friend, or family, the relationships in these type of movies are central to what makes them work. It is the power of those relational connections that underscores and shapes the meaning of the events in the story’s plot.

As with all relationships, there are ups and downs, joys and conflicts, and so chick flicks put a premium on exploring the heights and depths of the emotional journey of key characters.

Another dynamic: Possibilities. In chick flicks, chance encounters can turn into life-altering opportunities. Consider this tagline for Sleepless in Seattle:

“What if someone you never met, someone you never saw, someone you never knew was the only someone for you?”

One interesting aspect of chick flicks is they can work across genres: Drama (Terms of Endearment), Romantic Comedy (Four Weddings and a Funeral), Sports (A League of Their Own), Thriller (The Hand That Rocked the Cradle), Action Adventure (Romancing the Stone). It’s possible to argue that one of the biggest movies of all time Titanic, an epic historical drama, is at its heart a chick flick because of the centrality of the romance relationship between Jack and Rose. As writer-director James Cameron said in this interview:

“All my films are love stories… but in Titanic I finally got the balance right. It’s not a disaster film. It’s a love story with a fastidious overlay of real history.”

By the way since there is no hard and fast rule as to the definition of ‘chick flick,’ you can visit this website and vote on whether a movie actually qualifies or not.

What other qualities and dynamics do you think are present in most chick flicks? What other movies of note belong in the list?

9 thoughts on “Movie Story Type: Chick Flick

  1. The greatest chick flick of all time: Brief Encounter.

    Also, Dr Zhivago, Klute.

    1. Despina says:

      Dr. Zhivago? That’s the most depressing story ever.

      I hate love stories and sap. But I’m atypical. Of the ones listed above, Bridget Jones is the only chick flick I can stomach. Maybe Pride & Prejudice, but that gets exhausting.

      1. Brief Encounter is an amazing movie, imho. A foreshadowing as to how great David Lean would become.

        I’d also add Wuthering Heights, the one with Olivier & Vivian Leigh, and the 1935 version of Anna Karenina with Greta Garbo & Fredric March (b&w movies, I *know*)

        1. oops, Merle Oberon… not Vivian Leigh.

  2. Despina says:

    Are there such things as “Guy Flicks” that don’t have Schwarzenegger, Stallone, or exploding White Houses?

    1. There’s an entire genre that most women refuse to watch: Sci Fi. Does that count?

      1. Despina says:

        Would Black Swan be considered a “Guy Flick”? ha………. kidding.

        I didn’t even think of Sci Fi, but that totally makes sense. I love Sci Fi… in moderation.

    2. Heh, when I worked in a used bookstore, there was a small section of adventure stories we called “guy-mance.” Robert Louis Stevenson and H. Rider Haggard would be the models the stories were written on, but these were pulp fiction akin to the romance novels, mostly from the 1930s – 60s.

      I guess a lot of old science fiction and fantasy falls under this rubrik, too: Conan, Edgar Rice Burroughs

      Not so popular today, though. Or, when adapted to screen it tends to be in a manner with a more general appeal (like Indiana Jones.)

      As for science fiction in general, I can’t think of that as for guys, because I love it.

      No, I think that robots, big explosions, and the whole Michael Bay style of film are exactly what guy flicks are made of. Chicks are just more willing to watch them than guys are to watch (often sappy) love stories. But you mix in some spies and great acting (like Casablanca) and it’s no longer a chick flick, it’s a classic.

  3. NEGenge says:

    I guess the films in-between Guy Flicks and Chick Flicks would be action-romance, like True Lies, that we used to call “date movies.” :)

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