I have a secret.
It’s something I won’t admit to my friends unless they’re drunk enough to forget it, nor is it something I tell my colleagues about on a Monday morning when they ask what I did at the weekend. It’s an illicit passion, one I only indulge when I know my housemates are out and my front door is locked and there’s a piece of tape covering my laptop’s webcam, lest MI5 are watching and waiting to know my shame.
Then, and only then, do I do it: I load up a streaming service, and I head straight to the material marketed at women.
“Recommend a romantic comedy to a group of beer-swilling alpha males and you’ll be met with the same sort of disbelief as if you’d ordered a piña colada with extra umbrellas”
It’s true. I can’t get enough. 13 Going On 30 is one of my favourite films, I’ve seen Wild Child more times than I can count, and I was first in line to get a good seat when the new Mamma Mia! came out. Do I like football? No. Did I pretend to like football when the World Cup was on? Yes. Do I like flowery, giggly rom-coms? Yep. Do I feel the need to pretend I’ve barely seen any, or that when I do it’s because my girlfriend makes me? Hell yes.
But there’s no reason to be ashamed of it. Men like to laugh. Men like to feel romantic, too: James Bond fawned over Vesper Lynd so much that he named his favourite drink after her, and for all of Hemingway’s macho posturing,A Farewell To Arms is just a big, soppy love story. Yet recommend a romantic comedy to a group of football-loving, beer-swilling alpha males down the pub and you’ll be met with the sort of glassy-eyed disbelief you’d get if you turned up in a tutu or ordered a piña colada with extra umbrellas and lashings of dainty tropical fruit.
It’s all about conditioning. While the ‘Films for Men’ and ‘Films for Women’ labels might not explicitly exist anymore, as a guy on Netflix you know exactly what you’re supposed to choose: you scroll past a picture of Mark Wahlberg with a gun, and you know it’s meant for you. But Channing Tatum with flowers, sandwiched in between What To Expect When You’re Expecting and He’s Just Not That Into You? Think again.
This all boils down to one thing: men still care about being ‘manly’. They might say they don’t; they might even act like they don’t. Your mate Dan went to a yoga class at his gym and didn’t completely hate it, and Greg is contemplating going vegan on weekdays even though he loves himself a steak. But at heart, men still care about giving off a masculine image – that’s why they’d rather look like Henry Cavill’s Superman than Troye Sivan, why they’re still fawning over cloudy IPAs and 9% stouts when something as delicious as a Watermelon Daiquiri exists, and why they’d never be caught dead waxing lyrical about how Crazy Stupid Love has one of the best plots of any film in the last ten years, when that’s so clearly the case.
In the ‘girly film’ industry, times are changing – even the term itself barely exists anymore, outside of MRA Reddit forums and the living rooms of guys who split their time between
Just look at Netflix’s recent megahit Set It Up, credited by Vulture as the saviour of the rom-com, and you’ll see a film which either avoids, subverts or pays homage to every one of the old rom-com tropes, while still being a) about a guy and a girl falling in love and b) very funny.
Although you could say, aforementioned dinosaur examples aside, that the rom-com has always had its brain in the right place. 10 Things I Hate About You is a Shakespeare adaptation of Taming of The Shrew about a girl who refuses to be timid and won’t settle for a man who can’t accept that; Mean Girls was written by US comedy mainstay Tina Fey and offers one of the most accurate portrayals of American high school tribalism ever committed to the big screen.
Progressive rom-coms like The To-Do List, The Big Sick and Love, Simon are only following in the footsteps of the surprisingly woke romantic comedies of yesteryear; and, in labelling these films ‘girly’, all that men are saying is that they’re targeted at women so they’re not worth their time. That’s what’s so insidious about the gendering of movies - it suggests anything marketed at women is too dumb for men to bother with.
“That’s what’s so insidious about the gendering of movies - it suggests anything marketed at women is too dumb for men to bother with”
Which, in itself, is hopelessly dumb, because while rom-coms are getting smarter, ‘manly films’ are only getting more stupid. The climax of one of the most recentFast & Furious
Who knows? They might just enjoy themselves. And if they don’t, just tell them to man up.
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