Shoes, Self-Help & Catfights: What Women Want In Movies


This was the year, we’re told, that Hollywood started making movies for women… as long as they were totally inane. And next year, as Self-Help Cinema launches, they’ll be even more vapid!

The cinematic events which apparently heralded this sea change were Sex and the City: the Movie, Twilight, and Mamma Mia. In other words, women had promiscuous sex, had sex in the city, and didn’t have sex with vampires, and amidst financial turmoil and political change, we ate it up.

However, all this is positively Bergman-esque compared to 2009’s distaff-themed offerings. Says the FT,

This year women will be targeted even more precisely. One sub-sub-genre to emerge is feature films adapted from self-help books, notably French Women Don’t Get Fat, which instructs women they can stay slim while still scoffing the air in the éclair choux pastry, and He’s Just Not that Into You , which proffers advice such as that if a man runs away from a woman he is not in love with her.

The article quotes one feminist’s dismayed response to this trend: “Self-help books send out the message women need to improve themselves instead of being happy with who they are.” Well, that seems a tad unfair. For one thing, as self-help books go, these two are fairly common-sensical: both were remarkably short of psychco-babble and long on clearing up misconceptions, albeit obvious ones. There’s a reason these books were such runaway bestsellers that they caught Hollywood’s roving eye, and it’s more than just numbers. Self-help offends people by its lack of artifice, its vulgarity, but chick lit and women’s fiction hews to a similar formula of control-wresting and triumph. After all, a film like Sex and the City or Mamma Mia is no more virtuous for wrapping its self-help cliche’s in shoes and ABBA; the self-help films will simply make no bones about it. The irony is, the end result will probably not be too different from what Hollywood’s already turning out.

However, it will be interesting to note whether the stigmas of self-help carry over to its cinemazation. After all, a woman who can justify seeing Sex and the City for a laugh or Twilight in the name of cultural anthropology – no small class of women, I’d wager – might have a harder time pulling the trigger for French Women Don’t Get Fat in widescreen. We like to be silly, not to feel stupid. Whether or not one finds the self-help film trend dismaying in itself, one can’t deny that the “woman/smart ” divide is being made nakedly stark. In removing all the artifice from what have essentially been self-help movies all along, Hollywood’s ironically respecting our intelligence. And I wonder if that might not, also ironically, result in a backlash of denial – not the kind of escapism anyone wants.

Year of Women [FT]

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