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Wick flick

| Tuesday, March 21, 2017

While on the eight-hour spring break bus ride (after time change) from Notre Dame to Minnesota, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I came across a New York Times opinion piece by Gloria Steinem. The piece, titled “Women Have ‘Chick Flicks.’ What About Men?” is largely a reprint of a 2007 essay. In it, Steinem tells the story of a man she sat next to on a plane who, when offered a film selection, loudly declared “I don’t watch chick flicks!” Steinem uses this incident as a jumping-off point to develop an as-yet-undefined term for the opposite of a chick flick, which she calls a “prick flick.” Under this umbrella she groups films that “glorify” war from World War II to the present, horror flicks in which male killers stalk vulnerable women, or other genres she considers to subjugate women.

Funnily enough, I found myself thinking back to the last thing I’d seen that Steinem would have tagged with the “prick flick” label —“John Wick: Chapter 2.” This film, which follows Keanu Reeves as the titular unretired hitman, is the most violent action movie I’ve seen since “The Raid 2” (which I still maintain was robbed for 2014’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar). It’s an hour and a half of murder, with flawless cinematography that refuses to let the viewer miss a second of the spectacle. The plot is almost completely irrelevant, existing mostly to provide an excuse for Reeves to shoot more people in the head. There are exactly two women of note in the script — one gets a sexualized death, and the other never speaks.

Yet despite all this, I can’t say I’d label “John Wick: Chapter 2” a “prick flick.” Sure, it’s got a lot of guys in it, and they’re all doing very aggressive, violent things to one another instead of using their words. But I never got the sense that he was doing this as a way of proving his masculinity. Contrast something like “300”, “Sin City,” or really anything Frank Miller’s ever touched, where violent aggression is something that men do because they’re men. Reeves has neither the bodybuilder physique of Rambo nor the chauvinistic demeanor of any incarnation of James Bond; John Wick mostly just seems tired.

But the clearest indication to my mind that “John Wick: Chapter 2” is not a “prick flick” is simple — it is not a bad movie. It may seem strange to claim that that alone disqualifies it from the “prick flick” label, but when have you ever heard someone praise a movie by calling it a “chick flick”? Certainly, there are plenty of films that star women and are geared heavily towards to female audiences, yet escape condemnation as “chick flicks” because of their high quality. I think here of 2015’s “Brooklyn,” which was one of my favorite films of that year.

Suppose, on the other hand, that Steinem believes that “chick flick” is not inherently a negative descriptor? If so, I suppose the “prick flick” designation is still useful, but as a value-neutral label, the way you would call a film a “creature feature” or “road movie.” Steinem’s tone has something of the snarl word about it; presumably, she is attempting to ape the connotations that “chick flick” has (undeservedly) acquired.

Ultimately, it would be nice if we could move past the quality-focused implications of “chick flick” or the proposed “prick flick”. Gendering film only means that men and women will lose out on watching films they would otherwise appreciate. Maybe I’m just starry-eyed, but I look forward to the day when we can all feel comfortable watching what we like, especially if it involves a 52-year-old Ted Logan dispatching would-be assassins with a pencil. Whoa.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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