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MORE MOVIES SHOULD BE ABOUT BEING MOVED

What's the difference between boy-movies and girl-movies?

Butterflies.

In girl-movies, butterflies signal that something lovely is forthcoming: a romantic interlude, a meditation on life's wonders.

But in boy-movies, the graceful insect isn't a good sign. Audiences learned this back in 1930 with the Oscar-winning war drama "All Quiet on the Western Front." When its weary soldier hero spies a nearby butterfly, he instinctively reaches for it. A shot rings out . . .

In the upcoming World War II flick . .

. . "Windtalkers, "boy-movie director extraordinaire John Woo ("Face/Off") depicts one of these winged harbingers alighting on a dappled stream . . . whose crystal waters turn crimson with blood.

I don't recall any butterflies in the much anticipated girl-movie "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood." But in the film's opening, four girls gather around a campfire and induct themselves into a quasi-spiritual club.

As they celebrate, glittering sparks from the fire swirl heavenward, invoking the hope and beauty of -- well, you know.

I enjoyed both . .

. . "Ya-Ya," which opens today, and "Windtalkers." Like many people, I appreciate both boy- and girl-movies.

Yet I can't help wishing there were more of the latter.

Decades ago, the "women's picture" was a hugely popular Hollywood staple. Stars such as Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Doris Day built entire careers on them.

Today, Julia Roberts and Ashley Judd notwithstanding, girl-movies are comparatively rare.

What separates the genres?

Generally -- and stereotypically -- speaking, men crave action in movies; women like relationships. The action in boy-movies tends to be in-your-face: blazing guns, crashing cars, stuff blowing up around male protagonists. Women, though decorative, aren't necessary.

In girl-movies, the action is an inside job, occurring largely inside its female protagonists' hearts and minds. Concerned with human connections, they use men as props (think "Waiting to Exhale"). Clearly "Ya-Ya" -- based on the Rebecca Wells bestseller about trauma and forgiveness among a group of tough southern women -- isn't aimed at George W. Bush.

Watching the Sandra Bullock vehicle, I laughed, I sighed, I almost bought its hooey that family traumas can be overcome by a few intense chats. I had fun, too, at "Windtalkers" -- despite long periods spent contemplating my manicure to avoid its gory battles. Being a girl, I loved its relationship between a haunted white Marine and one of the Corps's Navajo "code talkers," real-life heroes who used the tribe's complex language as code during battle.

Obviously, many popular movies . .

. . ("Titanic," "Charlie's Angels," "Spider-Man") combine elements of both genres.

To determine whether more boy-movies get released, I asked my film student son to do an unscientific analysis. Out of 46 major-studio summer releases, just 11 -- only a quarter -- qualified as traditional girl-movies. "It's summer," he explained. "In winter, you get more thoughtful, relationship-type stuff."

Women have made inroads in Hollywood, says Suzanna Walters, director of women's studies at Georgetown University, "but Hollywood is still a man's world. So, their stories, their fantasies, their images drive creativity and production."

Then there's the fact that even so-so guy flicks often make money.

In even the most execrable boy-movie -- think "Swordfish" -- stuff happens: mindless sex, gunfights, explosions.

In mediocre girl-movies, Meg Ryan trips over something.

Somehow, the disproportionate girl-to-guy film ratio reminded me of a story my son related about one of his buddies. The kid was horrified to realize that the jeans he'd tried on at a unisex boutique were for women.

He bought them anyway -- but insisted that a female friend conduct the transaction.

When I said his friend behaved like an idiot, my son defended him. "Men are always worried about seeming like they're not masculine," he explained.

Maybe. But there's also this:

Men's stuff is still more valued. Why else do countless girls dress in men's sneakers and T- shirts? Why else do many women christen their daughters Taylor, Morgan and Madison? Boy-movie "Pearl Harbor" co-starred gorgeous female model James King.

The only boy named Sue is in a country song.

And our kick-butt rhetoric notwithstanding, women are still pleasers. We're far more likely to accompany our boyfriends to "The Fast and the Furious" than they are to squire us to "Enough."

"I've seen many a guy movie for my boyfriend," admits Candie Jones, a Georgetown senior. "Like 'Blade II,' which I suggested -- I knew it would make him happy.

"But when I wanted to see 'The Sweetest Thing,' he refused."

Women stand for this, Jones suggests, because to them the action of seeing a movie isn't as important as the relationship it forwards.

Women enjoy "the relationship aspect of being out together," Jones explains. "You're staring at a screen but you're together. . It's implied that you'll do dinner, get to talk, maybe hold hands . ."

She laughs.

"Feminists will hate hearing it, but it's true. We figure, 'If I have a good time, so what if I'm watching 'Planet of the Apes'?"
by Donna Britt, June 7, 2002
© 2002 The Washington Post Company


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