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Women, Sport, and Film - Fall 2005
Student Papers
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The Essential Characteristics of Chick Flicks and Women's Sports Films

Sarah M

What are the "essential" characteristics of a Chick Flick? of a Sports Film?
How are these played out in the films we watched?*

Throughout the past few weeks, we have been exposed to a number of mainstream-media films which employ stereotypes, characteristics and themes related to either the quintessential 'Chick Flick' or sports film. In many of these movies, such as Bend it Like Beckham, the director artfully incorporates characteristics of both of these film genres.

In examining what makes a 'Chick Flick', there are certainly some almost invariable qualities. In many of these movies, such as in Bridget Jones' Diary, or in Pretty Woman, there is a female protagonist embroiled in some sort of conflict or another. In Bridget Jones's Diary, a nearing-middle-age slightly 'overweight' (as the movie portrays by her eating habits and self-perception) is feeling trapped in her lonely quest to find a suitor; in her eyes, a veritable 'prince charming.' This conflict is then mitigated by the presence of a promising, handsome, charming man who's purpose (at least in the intents of the movie), as it turns out, is to valiantly rescue our female protagonist from her impending doom of "spinsterhood". However, as it turns out, our Prince Charming is characteristically flawed (as he usually is in one way or another in these movies) and our female protagonist (Bridget, in this case) must somehow sublimate all of her emotional/physical hurdles and somehow undergo a personal revolution in order to reverse the roles of dominance in the movie. This theme is found in Pretty Woman, in that Vivian has found herself in the beginnings of being overcome by the hardship of sex work and 'street life'. Richard Gere, our prince charming, come screeching to a halt in front of our female protagonist and we are led to the hope that perhaps this successful, wealthy business is somehow the answer to all of Vivian's prayers. And yet, in the end, Vivian (like Bridget) finds herself in a situation in which her pride and sense of self-worth is compromised and challenged, and she has to make the choice between "settling" for less than she wants and walking; and like out heroine in Bridget Jones's Diary, she chooses to retain her self-pride. Aside from this interaction between the capitalizing on gender stereotyping and at best trite attempt at 'female empowerment', these quintessential chick flicks employ one of the most powerful tools available to woo their mainstream audience of mostly-females: a happy ending. These themes of personal redemption and empowerment hold true to the chick flick with Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson Somethings Gotta Give.

In Sports Films, such as Bend it like Beckham A League of Their Own, and in Love and Basketball, there are themes of conflict, yet it seems as though rather than the focus being on interpersonal conflicts between the protagonist and another character (although there is, undeniably, very strong subplot employing this theme in each of the movies) the conflict seems to lie on some personal or (as in the attainment of a singular personal goal) larger-scale issues, such as the winning of the final series, and keeping the women's league open in A League of Their own, or the rise of the female protagonists in Bend it Like Beckham to a professional league in the states. In these sports films, issues of gender roles, gender dominance and masculinity vs. femininity arises. In A League of Their Own for example, the women were mandated to wear skimpy skirts and impractical uniform in order to appeal to a general audience who appreciate not the talent of these women but rather look to objectify these women as sex objects and spectacle. It could be argued that in our society, today, we continue to do these very things. Women athletes are currently still judged on the basis of their femininity and are subject to scrutiny in ways that male athletes are not.

Therefore, the phenomenon of the 'intermingling' of both Sports Film and Chick Flick themes in the same movie is something interesting when the subject of these movies is female, and the main premise of the move is a sports-centered themes, there is almost always an undercurrent of love and sexual relationship. In League of Their Own the conflict between Dottie's involvement in the team and her relationship with her husband and desire to fulfill her 'duties' as a wife is a salient example of this; in Bend it Like Beckham, there is a love triangle conflict between the two female protagonists and their mutual love interest, their coach. Thus, one must look at these Chick Flicks masquerading as Sports Films and be critical of the messages the media is sending about women in the sports and athletics arena; what is the movie portraying as the true value of these women? As love objects, or as athletes?

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