[Chick Flix Club examines films within the female driven comedy/drama genres (otherwise colloquially referred to as “chick flicks”) in order to understand why we may or may not adore these flicks despite not being in the intended demographic]
I first saw Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion when I was about 10 or 11 years old. Back then I laughed at the jokes and sexual innuendo, but I had no real idea what they were really trying to do. I had no true comprehension of the high school reunion, nor did I truly understand concepts like “popularity” or the need for it.
14 or so years later, I’ve had my own high school and college experiences where I too dealt with the very same things. And as my colleagues and I begin going are own separate ways, it’s interesting to think about where my life could go from here. Romy and Michele is an interesting chick flick in that happiness or success doesn’t hinge on gaining a male-centric relationship, but instead discovering your own power without need for outside validation. It’s a wonderful deconstruction of the genre.
How exactly does Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion deconstruct the chick flick genre? Do Romy and Michele truly have a happy ending? Does any of this matter? Please read on and find out!
Romy (Mira Sorvino) and Michele (Lisa Kudrow) had a tough time in high school as they were in the bottom of the high school food chain. Ten years after they graduate and move to Los Angeles, they realize that their high school reunion has come up and prepare to go back and impress everyone (and rekindle old relationships). Romy, thinking her and Michele haven’t improved enough since high school, plans for the two to lie at their reunion and say they’re successful businesswomen instead of the trendy club goers (as they design their own outfits) they really are.
From the get go, Romy and Michele wants you to know that the film isn’t going the traditional chick flick route. It starts by openly mocking Pretty Woman (which I’ve covered on the CFC before) in order to distance its two female leads from the standard formula. Romy and Michele seem above the formula enough to see it for its problems, but they’re not perfect either (Michele even breaks her own facade and slightly connects with the film). But the start of the film also informs the rest of the proceedings. You see, Romy and Michele is more a pastiche of chick flicks. It takes what’s slightly goofy from the genre and elevates it, creating real character development. In fact, this celebration of the genre’s goofiness eventually leads to Romy and Michele becoming the closest thing to real women I’ve seen so far.
I should probably explain. Romy and Michele are two best friends who could care less what anyone thinks…although they don’t always realize this. They’re delightfully goofy (although their goofiness does verge on caricature, that goes away once you realize the entire film is not meant to be taken at face value), effervescent and quite charming. Maybe it’s because most of their dialogue revolves around each other (and not a male character). Which means that Romy and Michele is one of the precious few films featured in the CFC to pass the Bechdel test (where two women talk to each other about a subject other than men). This is definitely a huge accomplishment for any film that manages to cover as much ground as Romy and Michele.
As the film deconstructs the chick flick genre rules, it makes the male presence less necessary. The male characters of the film are each sidelined and are given ridiculous qualities in order to further emphasize their lessened importance. In fact the object of Romy’s idealizations, Billy Christianson, is just that, an idealization. Since Romy has very little direct interaction with him (and since it’s her and Michele’s world), Billy isn’t given a character. He’s a hollow shell to which Romy can project her teenage affection. And after Romy becomes a fully realized adult and discards her need for validation from her peers (notable growth since it mainly occurred through self-exploration and in-fighting with Michele), she realizes that Billy was just as hollow as the film makes him out to be. She deems the man unworthy (as the film further proves this by degrading his image at the reunion) and goes forward alone with her best friend the only thing necessary to her life.
Michele’s character path, at least in comparison to Romy’s, is much more muddled. Michele is characterized by her naivete and fun loving attitude, and most of the time goes along with Romy’s sense of direction. But the odd thing is, her laid back demeanor and lack of substantive dialogue actually makes her the stronger of the two leads. Her “whatever” attitude is just perfect for the film. One of the greatest genre deconstructions in Romy and Michele is Michele’s ending. The end of a chick flick is normally reserved for the male lead’s grand gesture, and that too happens in this film. However, it’s not really given much importance (as the reunion atmosphere emphasizes the lead’s mysterious success) and the fact that the male lead wants to date Michele is sort of arbitrary. It’s a “sure, why not” situation. And Michele’s response to all of it? “Oh okay.”
But it the end, Michele is always the one Romy confides in. Her dream sequence during the climax of the film is also what prompts her to put her and Romy’s friendship back together. The film’s ending is also very much Michele’s ending as it implies that Romy may be a lot more of a broken character than at first perceived. She tags along with Michele and Male Lead’s dance at the end, she tags along with Michele’s fashion boutique at the film’s end, and although the film may be titled Romy and Michele, Romy needs Michele more than vice versa. It’s a weird conclusion for a hilarious flick. And it’s hilarious because it’s so weird.
By choosing to reinvent the chick flick genre and placing two female leads at its center, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion does more for female characters than any film I’ve seen for the club so far. It depicts a realistic (and slightly dark given Romy’s open ended conclusion) take on women beneath its bubble gum exterior. These women aren’t perfect, a man won’t fix their problems (as the two decide that lying about money and having a boyfriend wasn’t working for them), and their problems aren’t completely fixed by film’s end. They’re two women (who aren’t in a sexual relationship either since it’s not necessary) who just really enjoy their friend’s company. And because of this, the film’s all the more enjoyable to watch.
For the next edition of the Chick Flix Club, I think I’ll stay in the 90s and present a film that also dances a fine line between dark and peppy.
The CFC will return in June with…Clueless
April: The Powerpuff Girls Movie
February: The Notebook