The Judd Apatow-produced Bridesmaids, a hit comedy with smart writing, opens in the UK later this month (June 24), and, almost inevitably, it’s been dubbed a chick-flick. If the term “chick-flick” is not intended to be pejorative, it does skate very close. Yet, if anything, a chick-flick should mean a film that’s designed to make you cry, to promote a catharsis – and in that sense most motion pictures are chick-flicks.
There may be shopping chick-flicks such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and food chick-flicks (Babette’s Feast, 1987) but the very best chick-flicks go to the heart of movies. Think of Casablanca (1942). Bergman’s seriousness, Bogart’s bitter longing, the audience’s helpless tears. When cinema is at full power we are all chicks. Here are my all-time top five chick-flicks.
1. ‘Raise the Red Lantern’ (1991)
A Chinese masterpiece about the difficult lives of women which became an international hit. It follows the dreams and daily routines of the various wives of a castle-dwelling aristocrat in the 1920s. Its all here: what it is to be simultaneously dissatisfied, self-conscious, and, ultimately, a bloody good sport. A film with unflagging soul.
2. ‘The Outsiders’ (1983)
A chick-flick that doesn’t even know it. An all-male cast but a strictly female audience. When it was released – in the midst of the Brat Pack films, which are all chick-flicks– my class at convent school (and doubtless the nuns) furrowed our brows over which young star to cherish most. Tom Cruise? Matt Dillon? Emilio Estevez? A film about lost youth, the mood is one of perfectly soft regret.
3. ‘Almost Famous’ (2000)
A chick-flick for men, too (director Cameron Crowe is a master at these – see also his 1996 film Jerry Maguire). Almost Famous is about a touring rock band and its pretty groupies, and it’s really a musical without having to put up with mawkish plots of that genre. Kate Hudson, in her first big role, stars as Penny Lane, the blonde you root for, a ravishing camera subject who knows how to use her beauty against herself. A touch tragic, she needs a cooked breakfast and a hair wash.
4. ‘Read My Lips’ (2001)
The ultimate sexy chick-flick, by French director Jacques Audiard. Read My Lips is about office politics and largely unrequited lust, and is basically a long seduction between a plain woman (Emmanuelle Devos) and an incredibly sexy man (Vincent Cassel). The heat-filled scene in the closing moments of the film, in a car in Paris, is not easily forgotten.
5. ‘Bright Star’ (2009)
The chick-flick to make you weep. Jane Campion’s biopic of the last days of John Keats’s life is supremely tender. Ben Whishaw as the doomed poet is so lyrically sad that by the time his small coffin exits the Spanish Steps you are certain you will never feel happiness again. His performance, and this film, are both perfect achievements.
Antonia Quirke is a presenter on ‘Film 2011’ (BBC 1)