The grind of the 21st century throws up obstacles at every turn. Nikolaus Oliver is on hand with advice to guide you through. The chick flick as we know it today was born in 1993 when one woman in Sleepless In Seattle said weepingly to another, referring to the film An Affair To Remember which they were watching together, "Men never get this movie." The rest, to coin a phrase, is Kleenex.
The bald facts about chick flicks are that they are films, usually light-hearted, targeted at a female audience and revolving around the theme of relationships and how impossible men are. Some are based on fairy tales like Cinderella (Pretty Woman); others hail from chick-lit stables - books written by and for women below the age of about 35. Think Bridget Jones's Diary, Sex And The City, The Devil Wears Prada.
Men, for the most part, can't stomach this fare - they go to the cinema to escape. They want cars and explosions and enemies who get vanquished. Bond, in a word. The chick flick ethos seems to us to contain a hidden agenda, a secret message aimed at us, which pouts accusingly and asks, why can't you be more like...? And this takes us to the core of modern male/female relations. If a man poses his wife a question like, why can't you be more like Angelina Jolie (no, really, why can't she?), she will explode in a fury of recrimination against his crassness, sexism and shallowness. Yet - mysteriously - when she turns to him during a George Clooney film and gives him a hard stare, this apparently does not expose those same undesirable qualities in herself. Quite the opposite, it is he who is once more under the cosh - for being unkempt, overweight and, let's face it, not George Clooney. Men, because they are men, are always sexist and wrong. Women, because they are women, never are. And chick flicks exist to spread this message around the globe, wrapped in cloying sentiment, towering self-righteousness and a happy ending when the bloke gets an emotional makeover.
So, is there such a thing as a good chick flick? Well, it is theoretically possible, but I don't think it's been done yet. When Harry Met Sally came closest and its secret was to share the gender-bashing equally. Sally was just as impossible as Harry. Best of all, it held up for our admiration a glorious parade of elderly people with long and successful marriages under their belts. They and their stories were so sweet, I had to reach for a Kleenex myself.