An op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal bemoans the niche-ification of movies along gender lines, but the author thinks The Blind Side and Avatar buck this trend. Assuming he's right, what will get men and women to the movies together?
Let's put aside for a moment the fact that author Eric Felten is reductive and condescending about what women want to see (rather than what's produced for us), or that he devotes plenty of ink to sneering at chick flicks but not their testosterone-aimed converse. Well, let's dwell on it for just a moment.
Part of the proliferation of chick flicks grows out of the book-club phenomenon. Book clubs have primarily been a distaff concern and, naturally, the bulk of Oprah-sanctioned reads have been for the double-X set. (My wife once made the mistake of asking me to suggest something amusing for a book club; heedless of the most basic gender differences in literary tastes, I recommended "A Confederacy of Dunces," a comic romp that appeals to women about as much as the Three Stooges do. In short, they hated it.) Clubbable books sell well and many get made into movies. In turn, the ladies of the clubs go out to see the adaptations of the books they've read.
Oh, those ladies, with their girlish tastes! You can't account for their brand of middlebrow mush.
In any case, Felten's point is that whereas "old movies" like Casablanca "seamlessly combined male and female sensibilities in our segmented entertainment age," it's hard to find a movie that appeals to everyone.
In how many households is it common for the husband to be downstairs watching Daniel Craig dispatch bad guys while his wife is upstairs with Renée Zellweger?... Here's hoping for a few more films that provide a mashup of elements that appeal to both men and women. After all, I wouldn't mind going to the movies every now and then with my wife.
If we're relying on anecdotal evidence, as Felten largely is, I'd agree that cross-family crowd-pleasers are tough to come by, though I'd disagree with how he's drawn the gender lines. My immediate family often goes to the movies together over holidays, and finding something everyone wants to see is a challenge. But that's because when it comes to entertainment, my father — a tough, intellectual heavyweight in daily life — favors sappy romantic comedies and action flicks, neither of which interest my mother much. Over Christmas, that was him sighing loudly and checking his watch through Avatar, and giving It's Complicated high marks. Meanwhile, the rest of us mostly favor the pointy-headed and foreign stuff, more or less indifferent to gender. (That's movies we'll pay to see in the theater. Television viewing is a whole other story.)
We compromise on legal and political thrillers — when they're good. But the list of films that we've all enjoyed is short. Thank You For Smoking and Charlie Wilson's War. Certain Steven Soderbergh movies. We had high hopes for Duplicity pleasing everyone, but not so much. Oh, for the days of Coming To America (oh, and um, Casablanca). Taking suggestions for the Netflix queue.