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Women, Sport, and Film - Fall 2005
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chick flicks vs. women's sports films: two genres compared

jackie fleming

During the physical education class "Women, Sport and Film", we watched three movies that fall into the category of "chick flick" and three movies in the women's sports film genre. From an ongoing class discussion of the differences between these genres, we developed a set of characteristics defining each. Characteristics that are almost always present in chick flicks would include a focus on personal relationships, primarily romantic but also with friends and family, a strong emotional tone expressed through explorations of the main character's feelings, and most importantly, a romantic conflict resolved by a happy ending. They appeal to a primarily female audience. Characteristics defining to the women's sports film genre would involve a difficult obstacle necessary for the main character and perhaps additionally for the whole team to overcome, a conflict between the main character's love of the sport and a competing interest like friends, family, career choices, etc, and the process of proving oneself as an athlete to unsupportive family, friends, or society. A women's sports film can appeal to a male and female audience.

The films we watched embody these characteristics in different ways. "Bridget Jones' Diary" is clearly driven by the romantic plotline involving Bridget, Mark and Daniel. Bridget as a character is depicted primarily through her search for love and the bumps along the way. Her family and friends play supporting, though marginalized roles, and though other issues are present, they are mainly left unexplored. This movie is more on the shallow end of the chick flick spectrum, since the main character is pretty much a wreck without love and is not a good role model of a functioning, independent woman.

"Pretty Woman" on the other hand features a strong, independent, multi-dimensional leading female. Though Julia Roberts' Vivianne is in a profession that allows her to meet all kind of men, she protects herself from getting attached with her "no kissing on the mouth" rule. Additionally, she is in a profession often associated with a pimp. Not only does Vivianne refuse this relationship, she handles her business competently and professionally. The chick flick aspect comes into play with the romantic conflict played out through her feelings for her client. The issue of class is highly prevalent, presenting an obstacle to the romance between Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. Though Pretty Woman leaves viewers with a happy ending, our class questioned whether this was satisfying. Since Julia Roberts talked about her desire to further her education and get a different job, we cant be sure any of this would be realized if Richard Gere simply interrupts these ambitions, putting her on the path to comfortable domestic life.

The final chick flick we watched was "Something's Gotta Give" which takes the chick flick formula and applies it to a pair of characters unconventional for the genre because of their age. This highlights another defining characteristic of chick flicks: the understood requirement that the main characters be youthful and attractive, almost always attractive beyond any realistic realities for men and women. Other than age, this movie conforms to the other chick flick characteristics, although once again our class disputed the ending and whether it was in fact the one we wanted to see. Some members of the class wanted Diane Keaton to end up with Keanu Reeves, the younger, debonair doctor. He does seem like the more appealing choice over the old, grumpy Jack Nicholson. However, throughout the movie, Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson have a connection and an understanding that Diane doesn't have with Keanu Reeves. Thus, I find it to be a satisfying ending to a satisfying chick flick.

"A League of Their Own" can appeal to everyone, portraying a set of interesting characters who share a passion for baseball but all have their own issues and side stories. The obstacle to overcome for the team are getting respect as athletes and filling the stadium in order to keep the league going. There is a subplot between the two main characters who are sisters on the same team. Dottie, the older sister, is the baseball star, which is a source of inner conflict for her younger sister, Kit, who never feels good enough. This conflict is played out through a riveting final baseball play in which the sisters are playing against each other and this final play determines which team wins. It is a competition of who wants to win more, and allows for the possibility that Dottie has her sister's interests at heart when she allows her to win.

"Bend it Like Beckham" also explores many issues. The main character, Jess, is from an Indian family living in Britain and struggles to please her family and satisfy her own passion for soccer. The issue of culture, friendship, family and love are all central to the story. Jess and her best friend on the team fight over their coach, although, interestingly, this romance with the coach is not given as much attention as the friendship between the two women. This is a choice that clearly separates this movie apart from other chick flicks. It also meets the requirements that a women's sports film involve a process of the main character proving herself to unsupportive friends or family. This is certainly necessary for Jess to get the understanding and support she needs from her family.

The last women's sports film we watched is "Love and Basketball", a movie about a girl and boy who grow up next to each other and share a love for basketball. As they grow there is a strong bond between them, but their romance is tested by Monica's success in the sport coming at a time when Quincy's success is dwindling. The relationship finally ends when Quincy finds out his dad has been cheating on his mom and this leads him to drive Monica out of his life. Thus, other issues are explored in the movie, the characters must face obstacles to finding their way back to each other in addition to obstacles they must overcome in the sport. The must prove their worth to each other at different points in the movie.

One thing I found interesting in this class was the debate that came up after watching "Pretty Woman" and "Something's Gotta Give" over whether the ending was really satisfying. I wonder whether the debates in our class regarding the "happy" endings of these chick flicks is because the class is composed of a self-selected group of women choosing the go to a school without men, and whether the average chick flick-goer would challenge the movie the way we did. After examining the differences between chick flicks and women's sports films, I found that I vastly prefer the women's sports film for offering more of the complete package, portraying the female main characters as multi-dimensional and having more issues in their life than just romantic ones, for having a passion for sport that love doesn't automatically take priority over. For these reasons I believe this category of movie is much healthier for females and also for males to get a better understanding of the strength, determination and talent of women, over the concept offered by the chick flick of the vulnerable female desperate for love.

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