The rise and fall of the girly film

From the woman’s picture to the new woman’s film, the chick flick, and the smart-chick film

Authored by: Hilary Radner

The Routledge Companion to Cinema and Gender

Print publication date:  November  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138924956
eBook ISBN: 9781315684062
Adobe ISBN: 9781317408055


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The “woman’s picture” of classical Hollywood made way in the 1960s and 1970s for the “new woman’s film” and its avatars, most notably the “chick flick.” 1 The waning of the chick flick in the form of the “girly film,” following upon the 2007–11 global financial crisis, highlights how the new woman’s film, far from disappearing, has continued to develop in the independent sector, including re-workings of girly film formulas, producing what might be termed “smart-chick films.” These shifts in nomenclature underline a parallel transformation in the preoccupations of these films, which have in common that they primarily address a female audience and are concerned with guiding a woman towards a path of self-fulfillment. In its early phase, the woman’s picture upheld a fundamentally masochistic vision of feminine fulfillment (Doane 1987). It was succeeded by the “independent woman’s film”—a variation on the new woman’s film of the 1970s—which introduced uncertainties and experimentations that questioned this masochism. The independent woman’s film, in turn, was replaced by a frenzied fantasy of self-gratification in the form of the girly film during the 1990s, during the height of the popularity of the so-called “chick flick” (Radner 2011). Finally, the new woman’s film of the twenty-first century, including the smart-chick film, promoted an ironic vision of the woman’s fate, while sharing with its progenitors of the 1970s a sense of uncertainty about the possibilities for fulfillment that contemporary society offers to women.

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