The Ultimate Guide to Chick Flicks: The Romance, the Glamour, the Tears, and More! by Kim Adelman
Where are Lisa Cholodenko, Sofia Coppola, and countless other writers and directors who assume and reveal the complexity of people and their situations.
The Ultimate Guide to Chick Flicks is, at once, precisely what one would expect and (rather disappointingly) not at all what one would like (and by "one," of course I mean "me"). The book is, bluntly, ridiculous. Much more ridiculous, in fact, than the films it seeks to catalogue and celebrate. It is entertainment about entertainment, or a tribute to what I have heard lately referred to as "cinematherapy." There is no shrewdness in Kim Adelman's prose, no knowing wink, no evident feminism or analysis, and I looked hard for those things. The book deals reverently with nearly a century of romance films, tearjerkers, and botched make-out sessions without the slightest hint of irony. It also lacks an agenda, feminist or otherwise. Adelman seeks instead to celebrate fun, sometimes goofy movies about and for women in the simplest possible terms. Although lacking in other areas, this turns out to be not so bad a thing.
Adelman, author of The Girl's Guide to Elvis and The Girls Guide to Country, is a filmmaker and aficionado. As a production assistant, Adelman found her passion in the work of Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts. In this way, she is a knowledgeable and learned chick flick archivist, and The Ultimate Guide is impressively expansive. Adleman's discussion of chick flick archetypes is hilarious and revealing, as is her admiration for Pretty Woman. The book lauds the chick flick as both a reflection of women's modern lives and a standard to emulate; as Adelman asserts in the introduction, life "can -- and should" imitate art. While this might seem inane (or even harmful) given Adelman's definition of art, it is important to remember that many so-called chick flicks are often more interesting and complicated than they are given credit for. Adelman's holy grail, Pretty Woman, is about a prostitute, after all, even if that prostitute turns out to have a heart of gold and a wishy-washy aversion to avarice. While Adelman may miss some of the subtleties in her favorite films, she misses none of the fun, and certainly none of the magic, nostalgia, and flat-out transcendence watching a movie can provide.
Some of the book's high points come in the form of lists and games. Chapter 11 boasts an entire year of worthy chick flicks -- one for every day, in fact -- and, even if the selections get a little iffy (In the Bedroom?) the calendar serves as a useful guide for anyone baffled in the Blockbuster aisle. Adelman has devised a remarkable chick flick quiz in Chapter 16, and a list of discussion points in Chapter 15 (such as, "In your experience, is it true that men prefer women with lighter locks?" and, referencing Say Anything, "which song would you like to hear" John Cusack blare through your bedroom window?).
What troubles me, of course, is the way in which Adelman, in celebrating women's film work, actually undermines it by accepting, venerating, and reproducing vacuity. Not because all chick flicks are terrible films, but because movies by and for women are assumed to be formulaic and romance-driven, cuddly little bits of fluff that no (straight) man would be caught dead watching. Where are Lisa Cholodenko, Sofia Coppola, and countless other writers and directors who assume and reveal the complexity of people and their situations (and who also happen to deal with romance and "chicks")? Angie Errigo and Jo Berry, in a review of Adelman's book on the Orion Press Group website, assure us that The Ultimate Guide lacks certain offenses such as "lengthy pieces on Hitchcock's lighting engineers, Fellini's use of suture or Antonioni's representation of the sixties in Blow-Up," as if, because those film legends are not women (or, perhaps more precisely, fun-loving "heroines") they are therefore boring and parochial, as is any artistic or cultural analysis of them. Yet, Adelman would do well to include something of the art of women filmmakers, rather than highlighting the presumption that women make crap because tedious old men make art.
But, if Adelman's guide is predictable, so, too, is my abrasive feminist response to it. At least Adelman does a certain justice to her subject, and doesn't try to force intellectual worship on Hope Floats. I, on the other hand, want The Ultimate Guide to Chick Flicks to be something it was never intended to be. Which, I suppose, is really my problem, not Adelman's. This book is, unlike so much feminist or academic discourse, neither defensive nor apologetic nor aggressive. Though I respect feminist analysis (and feel it necessary) that is not Adelman's goal, however unfortunate. To that end, if you love "chick flicks," accept the term as inclusive and important, or have a regular and habitual desire to eat ice cream and weep ceremoniously (Adelman's suggestion, not mine) then this book is more than adequate.