This weekend at the box office, historical farce Year One opens against buzzy romantic comedy The Proposal. Unless you’ve got all the time and money in the world, odds are you’ll have to choose only one movie to see.
Before you decide which movie deserves your patronage, I’d like to share something I learned at a recent screenwriters’ conference. At one panel, a movie producer was being lambasted for the success of dumb comedies and the lack of interest in women’s films. He shrugged and said, “Vote with your box office dollars. Go see women’s movies.”
Another panelist revealed that, although women make up over fifty percent of the movie going population, in this arena they are less likely to be the decision-makers for a household or couple. Think about that fact. If you’ve got a significant other who is male, try to remember who picked the last few movies you saw.
Now, one could argue about what Hollywood considers “women’s movies” and several women attending the conference did, asking why women are pigeonholed in such a ridiculous fashion. Not every woman likes “chick” flicks. Some of my best female friends hate romantic comedies, for example, and I myself prefer broad comedies, which (as I learned from the first panelist) are apparently “male.”
These are fair questions, but (as much as I hate to admit it) the panelist had a point: Hollywood pays attention to money, not ideals. Sex and the City had an unprecedented opening weekend for a women’s movie because every woman in America made the executive decision to see it. In addition, many women brought along their friends, spouses, or significant others. This is unusual, however, and it’s far more common for men to be the decision-makers and to bring women (and money) to a movie they have chosen.
Case in point: two weeks ago guy-oriented comedy The Hangover was pitted against Nia Vardalos’ romantic comedy My Life in Ruins. Vardalos’ movie came in ninth place before dropping out of the top ten altogether. The Hangover, on the other hand, came in second, then proceeded to win the top box office spot in its second week.
This weekend we have another choice. In addition to being in a “women’s” genre, The Proposal is directed by a woman (Anne Fletcher, who also directed 27 Dresses) and stars Sandra Bullock, one of the savviest women in Hollywood. Year One is yet another broad comedy oriented at men. It’s unlikely that Year One won’t grab the top spot. But if enough people see the The Proposal, there’s every likelihood that it will place respectably and continue to make money for a few weeks. Score one for women in Hollywood if that happens.
It may sound ridiculous to claim that seeing a rom-com is a political act. But given that most big movies are still written and directed by men, it’s worth thinking about what our movie decisions are telling Hollywood, and asking who’s really making those decisions.