Beware the rise of the hen movie, writes Donald Clarke
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.