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Once, when asked my opinion of chick flicks, I promptly replied “I hate them!” But my husband interjected, “No you don’t…you love Pride and Prejudice.” To which I objected, “That’s a classic, not a chick flick!” But his comment challenged me to question what sets Pride and Prejudice apart from the rest of the genre, and I developed a short list. I will admit that not every modern chick flick follows every point that I’ve listed. But there seems to be a general pattern.
1. It Honors what is honorable.
Unlike Mona Lisa Smile, where Julia Robert’s character was celebrated for questioning the moral and beautiful, character is everything in the world of Austen. Mr. Darcy is good because he cares for and protects his loved ones, is kind to his servants, and is honest. Mr. Wickham is bad because he lies, runs up debts, pursues rich girls for their money and poor ones just for fun. In a contemporary chick flick Mr. Darcy would be drab while charismatic Wickham would be the leading man. When was the last time a chick flick villainized a man for not paying his credit-card bill? What about for having sex outside of marriage?
2. Substantial Characters
In the modern chick flick, I usually have a hard time caring about the characters. The men and women usually have good looks in common, but why else should I care that they get together? Chick flick characters tend to be far more interchangeable than those in Pride and Prejudice. I was thrilled for both Lizzy and Darcy, but it was clear that Lizzy and Bingley (or Jane and Darcy) would have been a horrid match. Not so when Exhibit A of attractive blond woman could be equally happy with any attractive, sweet-talking male. And when the leading lady dumps Guy A for Guy B, I’m left wondering, “How was that a step up?”
The novels of Jane Austen are characterized by the masterful use of dialogue. On the other hand, modern chick flicks rely predominantly on visuals (kissing and beyond) to develop the romance (or “sexual tension”), along with some properly placed loved ballads. And when chick flick characters do talk, they don’t have much to say! Many people remember this line from Notting Hill, “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.” Jerry Maguire made hearts melt when he said, “You…complete me.”
Compare that googly-eyed nonsense with Darcy’s first proposal, “In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” Or compare it with his second proposal, “You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged; but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever.”
4. It’s hilarious!
So often, chick flicks have to rely on filthy jokes and physical comedy to garner laughs. Not so with Pride and Prejudice. Austen’s sarcastic wit produces many subtle comments with laugh-out-loud results! For example, Elizabeth’s reaction to Mr. Collins unwanted proposal, “‘Really, Mr. Collins,’ cried Elizabeth with some warmth, ‘you puzzle me exceedingly. If what I have hitherto said can appear to you in the form of encouragement, I know not how to express my refusal in such a way as may convince you of its being one.'”
I’m still not sure if “chick flick” is the best way to describe Pride and Prejudice (especially the Firth/Ehle version). But if more chick flicks would follow its lead, I would probably be at the movies more often.
write by Starsky Banks