Thursday, April 17, 2008

Will there ever be another movie so exclusively anticipated by women?

A friend pointed out an excellent observation to me tonight: That the upcoming Sex and the City movie is the only theatrical release she could think of that was so highly anticipated by women.

Maybe it's because movies are now marketed to teen boys and young men, maybe it's because traditional romantic comedies have lost cachet, but all the big blockbuster movies that had advanced buzz and expected huge grosses recently were either sci-fi or fantasy franchises (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter) and had a basis in another otherworldly mythology (Spider-man, Rocky). While none of these films had an exclusive male base, it was a given that these were guy movies...and the girlfriends and the kids would come along too. Sex and the City, just like the show, will be enjoyed by some males, but they're only going to say that if they're reviewing it. The funny thing is, when you think about it, Sex and the City does fall into the above pattern: It is a fantasy, an otherworldly mythology, one without trolls or hobbits or robots (at least not literal ones). While some fans undoubtedly know this, and many more profess to understand it, there are so many who unconsciously try to model some aspects of their life on the show. I find this symptom extremely dangerous--and while it's attached itself to this particular movie, there have been other programs where girls tend to model themselves after main characters. Gilmore Girls is one such show--even though Rory Gilmore is a terrible role model, somehow her magical life transcends all that, much like the girls on SATC.

It's not that girls don't like fantasy or sci-fi, but there are many that just don't find allegories fascinating instead of confusing and hard to follow. "Realistic fantasies" are stories that really wouldn't happen, but technically could happen. Most romantic comedies and meet cutes fall under this category. They're based in real life, so there are no intergalactic planets and funky orbital rules to follow. The interpersonal conflicts are generally realistic, if heightened. In reality, Carrie Bradshaw would not be able to afford her lifestyle, financially or emotionally (your columns are based around you and your friends' love lives, and no one ever gets mad that you spill their secrets to the world?). But that doesn't matter, because we could live fabulously in our own world and pretend those shoes we bought cost $1000 instead of $15 at Payless. We can't magically pretend we can shoot spiderwebs from our wrists and jump buildings; somehow we lost that ability in childhood.

My friend compared the Sex and the City frenzy to Star Wars. It's a good analogy--both will have fans camping out before to score exclusive first dibs, and both have cultlike fanbases. But what's more interesting is to see if there will ever be another movie that's so grabbed women in this way even before it was released. More women watch primetime TV than men (they're off playing videogames or glued to their computer, apparently), so it naturally follows that a movie they'd be waiting for on baited breath would be an extension of a television show, even one that ended four years earlier. Nowadays, no movie is going to have an inherent fanbase without having the necessary backstory to propel it through, meaning it is affiliated with another medium, usually comics or books. This hasn't worked for female-centered book adaptations, as that Jane Austen movie a few months ago underperformed and The Nanny Diaries sank. But one can argue that those fanbases were very narrow, and more people have watched at least some SATC than have read either of the books, especially with the DVDs and syndication on two stations as further means of access. And many of the blockbusters mentioned above were sequels, so the original source material (the comic, the book) didn't necessarily matter. Star- or producer-driven movies don't have the same cachet; Forgetting Sarah Marshall will do well, but it won't whip up people the way other defining movies have. It's the story we're after, not the star, and knowing the background, mythology or source material is a way of getting more engaged with the story, of also feeling part of something and having insider cachet, a type of spoiler, in a way--which is exactly how many people want to interact with their entertainment, especially the kind that feed off the internet and follow trends and hype.

Of course, people will say there are no heavily anticipated women's movies because females are underrepresented in the movie industry, and once they begin to get movies made that they want to see the audience will come to them. Perhaps. But the Sex and the City movie is written, directed, and produced by a man, so that argument doesn't work here. Maybe because television is a continuing story, with characters we grow to love and fret over, which demand time and energy that women give freely that the connection is strong, whereas movies are about the loud bang buck, the hustle and bustle and action and one-time out-of-sight-out-of-mind, which is more inclined with male habits. But that's a gross oversimplification. Either way, it's safe to say that the hysteria surrounding the Sex and the City movie--which will only grow more overpowering in the next month and a half--will be a very rare occurrence, until the next generation-defining critically-acclaimed television show about women's lives is made into a movie.


Emily said...

This is great. You have hit the nail on the head.

I can't wait for it, and in fact, have watched the trailer twice. When I was at the movies recently, the trailer started and I gasped so loud I think Dave thought I was choking on something.

John said...

Here's a follow-up question: Can you think of any franchises worshiped by women in a cult-like manner that could logically make the jump to the big screen? I suppose a GossipGirl movie would do well with the newest generation of teens (and provide an all-new set of abysmal role models for them to emulate,) but what else?

MediaMaven said...

John, that's a good point. It's too early for Gossip Girl to be made into a movie, and it probably (and hopefully) never will.

It would be really, really rare, if not to mention downright impossible, to make a franchise that appeals to women this way that could be a movie. Even heroes like Buffy and Wonder Woman have a large contingent of male fans. It might be, like everyone else, I'm just stuck and can't think of something that would be able to transcend that female-oriented stories need boys to survive.