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Real dicks dream up faux chick flicks

The Georgia Straight
Shannon Rupp


Ever since I saw the film Kate and Leopold, any invitation to dinner-and-a-movie has taken on a sinister tone.

K&L, which is currently topping the hot videos lists, is the latest in a growing roster of "dick flicks". You know what I mean: those romantic comedies that are marketed to women as chick flicks but often seem designed to insult us. Or worse: they reflect the way some man wants women to behave. In short, they could only have been dreamed up by some dick. Or, if it’s really bad, a committee of dicks.

 On the surface K&L seems no more absurd than any other comedy: Leopold (Hugh Jackman) is a penniless duke from 1876 who accidentally travels through time to meet Kate (Meg Ryan) a fast-track marketing executive. But inexplicably, she falls for his weird manners which, as invented by director James Mangold and writer Steven Rogers, are designed to convince women that they’d be happier living in an era when men were men, and women were property.

 Kate, of course, is that contemporary career gal all the anti-feminists predicted would evolve: a frustrated, unloved, unfulfilled harpy who leads a lonely life of independence and financial success. Naturally she melts when Leopold brings her breakfast in bed. I grant you, he looks like Hugh Jackman, but Kate ought to have known that 19th century male aristocrats never learned to cook (that’s what servants were for).

But, as we say in journalism, never let the facts stand in the way of a story. (Advice that obviously shaped this script.)

“Women are scary now,” Kate’s ex-boyfriend warns Leopold, confirming my suspicions that this film would appeal more to a misogynist man than the average woman.

 I’m giving away nothing when I tell you that the film’s ending is just a dumb as the rest of the tale: Kate abandons her early 21st century advantages in favour of this idealized 19th century man. While I’m happy to suspend disbelief about time travel, for anyone who thinks any woman would, on a whim, choose to live in 1876, I have one word: dentistry.

Actually I have a whole list of words: penicillin, indoor plumbing, tampons, marriage laws, employment laws...and, oh yeah, the Vote.

Yes, Kate would have to be mighty stupid to make that leap, but then she’d be right at home with the many irritating, dim-witted female characters who populate these faux chick flicks -- all of which just happen to be written and directed by men.

My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997) features a vile Julia Roberts whose romantic interest in an old friend is sparked when she hears he is marrying someone else. For two hours we’re treated to the image of well-educated, professional women as little more than shallow, manipulative, jealous, spiteful, and petty competitors for a man. A boring man, at that. I don’t know any women who thought this film was funny, but plenty of them thought the guys who wrote and directed it (Ronald Bass and P.J. Hogan) missed the boat when they overlooked that fact that Rupert Everett, as Roberts’ witty, charming gay editor, was the film’s logical love interest.

I might have dismissed it as just another bad film, had a (male) friend not commented that it was more of a guy’s fantasy to have Julia Roberts and her co-star Cameron Diaz fighting over a man.

Then it dawned on me: a huge number of the films masquerading as chick flicks actually celebrate the romantic wants and needs of men. My pal confirmed this surprising idea when he admitted to having a weakness for romantic comedies. As he took me on a tour of his taste, it became obvious that he (and Hollywood) are particularly charmed by films in which (against all odds and common sense) loser guys get glamorous girls.

Call this dick flick sub-genre Beauty and the Beast for the New Millennium. Or maybe, Real Men Don’t Shave. There are so many films making heroes of unkempt men that it leads me to suspect that there’s some off-the-rack male fantasy that involves finding a beautiful, refined, plucked, waxed, exfoliated, moisturized, and exquisitely dressed woman with shampoo-commercial hair who is just desperate to love a man of dubious personal hygiene.

You think I’m imagining this? Off the top of my head I can think of French Kiss (1995; director Lawrence Kasden, writer Adam Brooks) which features sartorially-challenged Kevin Kline as a French thief and smuggler who sneaks contraband into the luggage of a beautiful American, Meg Ryan, thereby enchanting her. Six Days, Seven Nights (1998; director Ivan Reitman, writer Michael Browning) brings us Harrison Ford as a slovenly, anti-social pilot running a marginal charter business in the South Seas who seduces Anne Heche, a glamorous New York magazine editor, who is half his age. Groundhog Day (1993; director Harold Ramis, writer Danny Rubin) stars Bill Murray as an obnoxious, cynical TV weatherman who captures the heart of sweet, sensitive producer Andie MacDowell. The gag is that he is doomed to repeat the same day over and over again until he learns to act better. Not to be better, but to appear better. It’s the adolescent-boy formula for how to win the unattainable girl. Green Card (1990; writer/director Peter Weir) features WASP princess Andie MacDowell entering a marriage of convenience with Gerard Depardieu, an uneducated, illegal immigrant with a little musical talent and a criminal past, who eventually manages to infatuate her. Despite his stringy hair. At least this script doesn’t hide its fairy tale inspiration. Depardieu, angry at being nagged, smashes some picture frames and warns MacDowell: “Take care: If you want me to be a beast, I can be a beast.”

This, by the way, is one of the defining characteristics of the dick flick: bad boy behaviour is always blamed on a woman.

One of the better competitors in the no-shave category is 1996 film Tin Cup, written and directed by Ron Shelton, which features Kevin Costner as a broke and unwashed golf pro who steals Rene Russo from a well-groomed member of the PGA tour. Costner plays an unbelievably gifted golfer who can’t compete in the big leagues because he prefers to take risks on beautiful, physics-defying shots that satisfy his ego, instead of playing a smart, strategic game that would earn him a spot on the tour. He blathers something about the nobility of the sport when what he really means is he’s too lazy to do much more than hoist beers with his reprobate buddies at an armadillo-infested golf course in small-town Texas. But with psychologist Russo’s coaching, he almost wins the U.S. Open, proving, yet again, that if women are only supportive enough they can draw the prince out of the beast. Or at least uncover the inner Kevin Costner.

 At the end, as the leads lie necking in his trailer, all I could think was: she’ll have to support him because this guy is so in love with his own adolescent delusions of grandeur he can’t earn a living, let alone do his laundry.

I expected something better from the 2001 dick flick, Someone Like You, with Ashley Judd and Hugh Jackman, because it was based on Laura Zigman’s clever novel, Animal Husbandry. But in the hands of Hollywood director Tony Goldwyn, the story is twisted into another bit of straight-male propaganda. The Judd character, angry over a bad break-up, develops an amusingly cynical theory about sexual relations based on animal behaviour, and then poses as an obscure professor to write an article about her “new cow/old cow” explanation for fickle men.

 In the book, she recognizes her sexist insights are due to momentary madness brought on by a broken heart and she gets a grip. The novel is a wry look at how painful it is to grow up emotionally. But in the movie, Judd’s salvation turns out to be her womanizing male roommate. Despite his skirt-chasing, he is revealed as a sensitive, wounded guy who only went bad after a previous love wronged him. In the end, our heroine falls into his arms. She learns nothing, except to keep hoping there is a prince lurking inside Jackman’s low-rent Lothario.

 But I learned plenty. By the end of the dick flick fest I finally understood why these films are promoted as “date movies.” Brainwashing. We’re being softened up to embrace the beast. This isn’t entertainment, it’s a male conspiracy.

 And, all in all, it’s given me a new appreciation for blow’em-up-good films.

12 Sep 2002