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Scott Mendelson

Scott Mendelson
Woodland Hills, California, United States
April 02
A ten-year Salon reader, Mendelson also has a film and politics blog/column at Mendelon's Memos: located at: He is also a free lance voice over artist and occasionally contributes film reviews for

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Editor’s Pick
FEBRUARY 9, 2009 10:29AM

'Chick Flicks' that are actually good movies

Rate: 18 Flag

I've always had a theory that there is no such thing as a good 'chick flick'. In that, I meant that a chick flick was by nature a bad film, made by people who knew it was lacking but expected women to flock to it anyway because it was "about womens' issues". Simple version - One True Thing was a real movie, while Stepmom was a 'chick flick'. But, instead of further dissecting the genre (that will be for another day), let us start the week of Valentine's Day by singling out a few quality films that may be labeled 'chick flicks' by the critical community, but rise above that title by being good.

Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants (2005)
Why it works -
Because this adaptation of the popular young adult novels plays like a real drama, with no excuses made for its young cast or PG rating. In many ways, its characters are actually far more mature and three-dimensional than those in many Oscar-bait adult dramas. All four actresses shine, but Blake Lively (in basically her first professional acting job) and America Ferrera have the meatiest story lines. When Lively's overly driven Bridget regrets sleeping with her older soccer coach, they both take equal responsibility for the mess they've made. No one is a victim or victimizer based on their gender. Ferrera's storyline, involving her bitterness at her father (Bradley Whitford) remarrying into a very white new family, provides the climax, and the finale is far more touching than you'd expect. In this world, these four girls are best friends not because they shop for shoes and talk about boys (Alexis Bledel's adventure in Greece is the only storyline specifically about romance), but because they are actually there to help each other with life's struggles.

Return To Me (2000)
Why it works -
This Bonnie Hunt directed romantic comedy belongs on a pedestal next to When Harry Met Sally and Annie Hall. Why? Simple, this is the rare romantic comedy that actually shows the couple (David Duchovny and Minnie Driver) actually getting to know each other. Unlike most romantic comedies which basically boil down to 'you're hot... I'm hot, let's pursue each other for the rest of the movie', this one actually takes the time to form a real personal chemistry between the widowed doctor and the waitress who ended up with his late wife's heart. Unlike many romantic comedies where you fear for the future of the couple, this film works because you know that if they can survive the initial courtship, they'll stay together forever. Bonus points - when his wife dies in the opening scenes, Duchovny performs one of the most realistic weeping scenes I have ever seen from a male movie star (his vulnerability is stunning - loud tears, gasping for breath, snot pouring out of his nose - which makes the moment that much more effective).

Mean Girls (2004)
Why it works -
I discussed this one in a prior essay involving female escapism, basically alleging that it actually follows the template for the male escapism genre. Personal thesis arguments aside, this is still one of the very best movies ever made about high school girls. Lindsey Lohan deservedly became a star (regardless of what happened afterward), and Rachel McAdams and Amanda Seyfreid used this as a building block toward longterm careers (poor Lacy Chabert can't quite break out). Writer and co-star Tina Fey proved she could write smart stories and build fictional worlds outside of the sketch realm, paving the way for 30 Rock and general global domination. This is the rare female driven film where getting the guy is not the primary or even secondary concern. Rather, the goal in this picture is simply remembering how to be a decent human being. And it's also quite funny.

13 Going On 30 (2004)
Why it works -
 This theoretical female variation on Big actually surpasses the Tom Hanks classic for emotional pathos. If Tom Hanks snagged an Oscar nomination for basically playing a ten-year old, then Jennifer Garner deserved a nod too for successfully playing a thirteen-year-old trapped in the body of her future thirty-year-old self. While this is a more straightforward romantic comedy, where snagging the guy eventually becomes the primary concern, the emotions are more realistic and the tone is more somber than you'd expect. Plus, Mark Ruffalo once again brings a gravity and depth to the rom-com traps that make the movie better than it otherwise might have been (Rumor Has It and Just Like Heaven may not be good movies, but he singlehandedly makes them watchable).

At heart, this is a dark comedy about a young woman who loses seventeen-years of her life, only to take up and realizes that she became a pretty terrible human being in those missing years. The act of snagging the childhood friend that she mistreated becomes as much about redemption as romance. But the film dares to suggest that she has no right to that redemption if it comes as the expense of other peoples' happiness. Until the very final moments (which, intentionally or not, equate total happiness with winning the guy), this is one of the darkest and deepest romantic comedies out there.

Scott Mendelson

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Interesting list. I was a big fan of "Return to Me" when it came out, and was surprised it didn't do well at the box office. I'm a sucker for anything Bonnie Hunt does, and thought she showed a real knack for directing. Plus Carrol O'Connor was great!
Can I add "Hope Floats?" It's a lovely romantic story, with lively characters and gut-wrenching scenes. of pathos and some mighty fine acting. Plus Harry Conick Junior and Sandra Bullock are easy on the eyes.
I love all of those movies ...
Good job, Scott! You are going to get a lot of chicks wanting to take you to the movies! Suhweeeet!
Actually, my wife and I likely will be going to the movies over V-day weekend. I'm even letting her choose. Which means we'll certainly be seeing Friday the 13th.
Well, nothing says "I love you" like a hatchet to the face.
I'm not a guy who's afraid to mention that I liked "Serendipity"; moreso because it has Kate Beckinsale in it! Plus the backdrop of NYC during the holidays always puts me in a good mood. Thankfully, my wife doesn't force me to see the chickiest, anti-male movies. But, I did have to sit through, "In The Mood For Love", and, "A Walk in the Clouds".

Good list uptop... I've seen every flick you wrote about, except for "Return to Me".
Great list. I would add "Boys on the Side" with Mary Louise Parker, Drue Barrymore, and Whoopi Goldberg.
Also did not see "Return to Me" and it's going on the Netflix list. So cool that list came from a guy!
I know this may not be popular, but I'd nominate You've Got Mail and Notting Hill. Each is, to me, completely satisfying and sweet. Not perfect, to be sure, but dependable. And I completely agree with Mean Girls and 13 Going On 30 on your list.
Great list! I loved "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" specifically because it wasn't about chasing after some guy with the hope of "happily ever after." Mark Ruffalo adds something to every film he is in- glad to see him get a mention. I have never seen "Return to Me" but I am intrigued and will add it to my queue.
This is great and an interesting list of films. I'd add "In Her Shoes." 13 Going on 30, any movie with Mark Ruffalo is a winner. Good post!
Great list, love them all. I especially agree with your evaluation of the beauty of Return to Me. Not only the relationship of the two main characters, the history and love among the older men is very special.

Have two for your consideration:
1. Crossing Delancy... an ethnic gem of a fix-up love story about finding your real self in a fake world that works for all ethnicities and generations at all levels.
2. The Boynton Beach Club... a view of the far end of the dating spectrum and single life: love, friendship, loss and coping with it all after 60.
Every movie I liked. Traveling Pants was more for the daughters. And they watched 13/30 like two or three years before I did. I finally saw it and said, Hey, this is good! They're like, yeah, and...? And I said, But you like Any movie like this.

Yesterday went with the youngest one to see "He's Just Not That Into You", and was suprised I liked it as much as I did. All in all, a solid 8 out of 10. It would have been a 9 except for what happened at the end with Affleck/Aniston. I won't ruin it for you, but Really!
i'm pretty indifferent to the ones you listed, but you forgot one fine day! michelle pfeiffer and george clooney! come on! :)
The Notebook. Even my husband likes that one.
I like the list. Isn't there going to be another Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants? I enjoyed the books. I have missed Amber Tamlyn since they wickedly killed Joan of Arcadia. I thought of Serendipity as well. Check out the 1998 film, Impromptu--Judy Davis, Hugh Grant, Chopin.
Great suggestions... we were just discussing whether to try and see a movie on Saturday.

I also have to put in a vote for "Say Anything," even though it might really be more of a teen movie than a chick flick. But, it's just so honest. And wasn't it a breakout role for John Cusack?
I would like to add "Kate and Leopold." Ever since I saw "Time After Time" I've had a thing for the rare time travel romance.
i don't know any of those.

but i loved "About A Boy" (can a chick flick have "boy" in the title?), and "High Fidelity" and all the other Nick Hornby films.

i liked "Say Anything," and "Men Don't Leave." (shit, can men be in the title? actually, boys or men in the title often means it IS a chick flick.) and that reminds me of "Boys on the Side."

(hmmmmm. an odd number of those involve one of the Cusacks, either john or joan.)

i have to admit, i actually enjoyed "Love, Actually." hugh grant does a good chick flick. it took awhile to admit to myself that i like hugh grant, but the guy is pretty damn good.
I second Love, Actually.... Excellent movie that's actually about several concurrent romances and brilliantly executed.
Also, A Lot Like Love with Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet is one of my favorite chick flicks about a friendship that slowly (agonizingly slowly) turns into a romance.
The Notebook makes me cry every time I see it, and I've seen it at least 8 times. If I'm switching channels and it's on I just have to watch it. But I'm a chick:)
Although right now my love life is making me want to watch slasher films...
All About My Mother is right up there for me.
I must take a minute to pimp "A League of their Own," which is quite possibly the only chick flick I'll ever admit to liking.
Thanks for the reviews. I agree with Mean Girls, and based on your comments I do believe I will check out "Return To Me" - I didn't know Bonnie Hunt was the director!
I liked "While You Were Sleeping", and "Strictly Ballroom" is a totally unique cinema experience, very highly rated
i love all of the movies mentioned here especially mean girls and 13 going on 30. am not a big chick flick fan but yes there are a few out there above the rest. Great post! (rated)
"Love Actually". My favorite film with a chick flick flare to it, but far from it. Witty, intelligent and a great film about love. That forgotten thing.

"Crossing Delancy" is superb.

For a sad one...."Carrington". For a delightful period piece...a funny romantic comedy about George Sand and Chopin: "Impromptu".