Beware the rise of the hen movie, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

When the folk be­hind Wall-E came to ex­am­ine the box-of­fice re­turns for the film’s open­ing week­end in the UK and Ire­land, they must, surely, have felt both happy and sad. The de­light­ful pic­ture did stack up a hefty wad of bills (more than ¤6 mil­lion in the UK and Ire­land). But de­spite the years in de­vel­op­ment and the ec­static re­views, it failed to take in more loot than Mamma Mia! scooped in its sec­ond week.

Water­loo! You were de­feated; they won the war.

How many hits con­sti­tute a trend? Well, when the movies are as barn-storm­ingly mas­sive as Sex and the City and Mamma Mia!, then two will prob­a­bly suf­fice. Even as we speak, some over­paid loon in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia is try­ing to de­vise a for­mula which, when fol­lowed pre­cisely, will de­liver an­other film that draws women to­wards the cin­ema in massed bat­tal­ions.

Be­fore an avalanche of e-mail de­scends, I should make it clear that I am not sug­gest­ing that most women savour the ma­te­ri­al­is­tic gab­bling of the SATC coven. In­deed, some of that film’s most sav­age re­views – check out Manohla Dar­gis in the New York Times, Tara Brady in Hot Press and Ella Tay­lor in the Vil­lage Voice – came from ou­traged fem­i­nists. There are also, I’m told, many women who pre­fer ro­bots to Abba.

That said, the box-of­fice break­downs con­firm what any­body may dis­cern from a minute spent lurk­ing round the near­est Enor­mo­plex: the au­di­ences for Mamma Mia! and Sex and the City con­tain sig­nif­i­cantly more women than men. And those women are trav­el­ling to the films in groups. They dress up as their favourite char­ac­ters from SATC. They sing along to Take a Chance on Me.

Hello, is that the trend po­lice? I’d like to re­port a new phe­nom­e­non. The hen-party flick is set to be­come the sen­sa­tion of the next decade.

Or is it? It is at times like this that Hol­ly­wood loses all sense of rea­son and be­gins draw­ing un­re­li­able con­clu­sions from the avail­able data. Think back to the great sword-and-san­dals glut that fol­lowed the suc­cess of Gla­di­a­tor in 2000. Troy, Alexan­der, King­dom of Heaven: it took a good five years for the stu­dios to re­alise that re­ports of the genre’s re­vival were greatly ex­ag­ger­ated. No sane per­son would have green-lit the ap­palling Rent or the cos­mi­cally te­dious Phan­tom of the Opera if Chicago had not ap­par­ently made the world safe for tra­di­tional mu­si­cals again.

The ob­scure qual­ity that has in­spired the pink cow­boy hat brigade to march on Sex and the City and Mamma Mia! is sure to elude the men who com­mis­sion the movies. Ex­pect a gag­gle of films in which four women shop their way around key metropoli­tan ar­eas. Ex­pect un­wanted movie ver­sions of juke­box mu­si­cals such as We Will Rock You (Queen) and Movin’ Out (Billy Joel). Watch solemnly as they tot­ter into the same pit of shame that con­tains the re­mains of Alexan­der.

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