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HOLLYWOOD BRIEF

'Chick flicks' are really starting to click

Women's box-office clout gets the studios' attention.

February 14, 2009|Rachel Abramowitz

It's Valentine's Day, and the movie studios have rolled out chick flicks like bouquets for every gal whose husband or boyfriend has ever disappointed them.

Thank goodness. Or so that seems to be the message from female moviegoers who have been lining up for women-enticing movies in droves.

Last year kicked off with the wildly successful "Sex and the City: The Movie" followed by "Mamma Mia!" in the summer and "Twilight" in the fall. The trend continued this year with "He's Just Not That Into You," last weekend's No. 1 movie, followed by this weekend's new female-skewing offering, "Confessions of a Shopaholic." If one includes tween girls phenomena like the "Hannah Montana" concert movie or "High School Musical 3," it's safe to declare that movie studios ignore women at their own peril.

It's certainly a sign of the times when Jerry Bruckheimer, Hollywood's reigning action king, is the prime mover behind "Confessions of a Shopaholic," based on the popular Sophie Kinsella novel. While Bruckheimer has dabbled in female-oriented films before ("Flashdance," "Coyote Ugly"), never has he become so actively engaged in the color pink and all its metaphorical allusions. (Ads for the film show its star, Isla Fisher, looking very pretty in that very color.)

"The only thing that explodes in this movie is her closet," joked Bruckheimer, whose company developed the film for eight years. Fisher plays a screwball finance magazine writer with a frantic passion for shopping and a trunkful of debt -- certainly a topical problem for women and men.

Slowly but surely, the studios seem to be realizing that the much-derided "chick flick" is in fact where the action is these days.

"The movie industry has distinctly underestimated the female audience and their box-office clout for a long time," said box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "I've seen a shift where you have a lot of guys, teen boys, even twentysomethings are playing video games, staying home. Now movies that have innate appeal to women are paying off. Finally Hollywood has cracked the code of what is appealing to women."

A sure sign that the genre has embedded itself deep into the consumer psyche is that these types of movies are becoming critic-proof. Here's what Entertainment Weekly said about "He's Just Not That Into You": "You turn romantic sanity into something so sanitized that it starts to make delusion look good." And many of the reviews for "Sex and the City," "Mamma Mia!" and "Confessions of a Shopaholic" were similarly snarky.

Who cares? Even though conventional movie wisdom had it that women are more sensitive to reviews than men, female audiences lately have been as devoted to their chick flicks as rabid fanboys. And it's not just audiences. In a recent interview with The Times, "Mamma Mia!" star Meryl Streep cheerfully referred to the reviewers who decimated the film (which has grossed $585 million worldwide) as "life-hating, life-sucking, desiccated old farts."

Some critics derided last week's entree, "He's Just Not That Into You," as anti-feminist for presenting gutless women desperate for approval from lackluster males. Yet Nancy Juvonen, the film's producer, who with business partner Drew Barrymore produced the "Charlie's Angels" franchise, disagrees vehemently. The character's travails, she argues, are all "part of being invested in the pursuit of love. I don't think it's anti-feminist.

"The idea that if we talk about these things we're not real women, I don't understand. It's such a '70s view of being a female. I'm all woman but I love men. I'm not apologizing for that. I don't think I'm alone."

Sue Kroll, president of worldwide marketing at Warner Bros., the studio behind the "Sex and the City" movie as well as "He's Just Not That Into You," notes that many of these female-driven hits are actually are more gender-balanced than in the past -- they play to women but don't skimp on the male perspective.

"It's not female-centric," Kroll said of "Not That Into You." "You have the guy's point of view. It's a little more balanced, more broad, even if the general experience is female."

Indeed, a distinct subtext in many of these films is that Prince Charming has clay feet, even neuroses the size of Manhattan. Men (i.e. "Sex's" Big, Streep's suitors in "Mamma Mia!," the guys in "He's Just Not That Into You") are deeply flawed creatures struggling just to be worthy of their female counterparts.

For most in Hollywood, it's not a particular mystery why the chick flicks are suddenly gaining so much traction in the marketplace.

It's the economy, stupid.

So these often portray fluffy, happy worlds where life's woes are settled with a song or a martini. There are no foreclosure signs or stimulus packages (at least of the economic kind).

"Given the state of the world, there are more reasons to get out and see a movie," Kroll said. "People want to escape. It's great escapist fare. As long as these films are made, women are going to go."

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rachel.abramowitz @latimes.com

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