[19 February 2010]
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
The star-heavy romantic comedy “Valentine’s Day” banged an out-of-the-park box office homer over the weekend, racking up $52 million in ticket sales.
A week earlier, the romantic drama “Dear John” earned $30 million, enough to end “Avatar’s” long run on top of the charts.
“The Blind Side” was a hit because it’s a women’s movie about football, and the films based on the “Twilight” vampire saga are a license to print money.
Add it up and you have a tangible dollars-and-cents display of the power of women filmgoers.
In principle, at least, the rise of the female audience is a good thing, because women are more likely than men to seek substance from their movies.
For some time now, Hollywood’s ideal audience member has been an adolescent male (or a grown male who has never gotten past adolescence) who gets off on action and rude humor, sci-fi and comic book-inspired subject matter. This is the demographic to whom Tinseltown pitches its biggest and potentially most lucrative product.
Yes, there are women who enjoy action and rude humor.
But unlike guys, who are intimidated by films that force an emotional reaction (sports movies excepted), women are open to having their feelings manipulated. More than just open, that intimacy is precisely why they go to movies.
As puzzling as it may seem to the frat-rat mentality, women can actually find satisfaction in watching two characters talking. They appreciate the often subtle fluctuations in attitude and intensity that make up an interesting on-screen relationship.
Guys are looking for a roller coaster ride: They catch a few thrills, then get off exactly where they got on. Women want to be taken somewhere.
Far more than their husbands and boyfriends, women want to come out on the other side a changed person. That’s the attraction of “Twilight” — women moviegoers live vicariously through the heroine Bella and her romantic development. Guys can’t identify.
Yes, these are generalities, but they are generalities born of 30 years of talking to people about movies.
I’ve found that men want to be diverted but not necessarily moved. Allowing yourself to be moved is, to many guys, a form of weakness.
Women are curious. They can approach a movie as a way of understanding how someone else — the filmmaker — views the world.
Guys are just the opposite. They’re closed to new ideas. Part of being a guy is knowing what you think ... you don’t go around looking for situations in which your opinions might be contradicted.
I said earlier that the rise of the woman audience is a good thing in principle.
In principle it challenges the box office reign of the big, the dumb and the violent.
In principle it leads to more diverse films finding an audience. A good example is last summer’s “Julie & Julia.” Women made it a hit. Men were pulled in almost as an afterthought.
The reality, though, isn’t so rosy.
Case in point: Neither “Dear John” nor “Valentine’s Day” is a good movie.
Hundreds of thousands of women (many dragging along significant others) bought tickets for “Valentine’s Day” in anticipation of getting a romantic buzz. I’d be interested in knowing how many thought the film really delivered.
Because the movie I saw was a patched-together quilt of relationship cliches, attractive actors playing shallow characters and stabs at humor that fell well short of the amusement to be found in one half-hour episode of TV’s “Modern Family” or “Cougar Town.”
I was looking for a romantic comedy that made me laugh loudly and feel deeply. I got shortchanged in both departments.
Here’s the problem: Hollywood will treat the female demographic with the same cynicism with which it approaches the guys. The goal is to determine the elements that push your intended audiences’ buttons, and then make a trailer/TV ad that prominently displays those elements.
Whether the movie is good or not is beside the point. Once they’ve bought their tickets, it’s too late.
Remember: The tyranny of bad screen romance is no better than the tyranny of bad screen action.