The male stars of He's Just Not That Into You have put out a call to men everywhere. Their message: it's OK for guys to go and see their film. In a five-minute video, fast becoming a YouTube hit, Kevin Connolly, Justin Long and Bradley Cooper pre-empt the knee-jerk reaction they believe most men might have to a romantic comedy based on a self-help dating guide, itself a spin-off from an episode of Sex and the City. "I know what you guys out there are thinking – 'Oh fantastic, another chick-flick. This is just what I need. I just started dating this girl, she's gonna drag me to see it... this sucks!'"
But it's OK, they reassure, because He's Just Not That Into You is not a typical chick-flick. It's "safe" for guys to watch because it avoids many of the tiresome tropes of the genre. To demonstrate this, the trio act out – hilariously – the 10 chick-flick clichés you won't find in the film. There's no makeover montage, no last-minute airport dash, and no sassy best friend. ("He plays the didgeridoo? My advice? Didgeri-don't.") Viewers won't be subjected to a scene where, in a madcap moment of sisterhood, characters spontaneously start singing into random objects. And they won't have to listen, cringing, while a guy moonily lists all the little things he loves about a girl ("I love your laugh. I love the gap in your teeth. I love how you smile at homeless people...").
As marketing ploys go, it's very funny. It does, though, omit to mention that while there may not be a soft-focus, soppy falling-in-love medley, He's Just Not That Into You still features a quintet of female protagonists who are, variously, desperate to get married, desperate for a date, desperate to steal another woman's husband, desperately addicted to cyber-stalking, and desperate to get her kitchen redecorated. Not to mention the chick-flick staples of bridesmaid dress fittings, yoga class, awkward blind dates, bitchy gay best friends and Sex and the City-style talking heads offering "real life" relationship advice ("Girlfriend, go grab yo'self a tub of ice cream, you have been dumped!").
Nevertheless, I decide to test out Connolly and co's assertion that men can "safely" watch this movie, "and, hey, might even enjoy it." But first I must find my guinea pig. Not easy on a Friday night with two hours' notice. While one potential escort states flatly that he has something far more fun to do, other (ultimately negative) responses reveal an encouraging and hitherto unexpressed appetite for romcom trash among my male friends. I note this for future use. Eventually my housemate, Ed, steps manfully into the breach – without, I think, signing me up for washing-up duties for the next month. Result.
It's 8.30pm, and the Empire on Leicester Square in London is abuzz with excited females. Maybe Ed stands out a little, but he is 6ft 2in tall, has his right arm in plaster (sporting injury) and is wearing an eccentric green and white bobble hat, so gender may not be the issue here.
Inside Screen 1, it's a 70 per cent-female audience who laugh, coo, boo, tut and whoop in all the right places. Ed laughs a lot too, though he utterly fails to see one of the climactic romantic gestures coming while every woman in the audience is flapping her hands happily in anticipation a good three minutes before it happens. Clearly not a chick-flick pro.
At the end, there's a burst of applause. Ed doesn't join in, but I put this down to the plaster cast. "I really enjoyed it," he says. "I liked the insight into how we, as humans, deal with the failure of our hopes." Gosh, maybe it's not your typical chick-flick, after all. He also makes the valid point that though the women in the film are far from beacons of the feminist ideal, the men get an equally rough ride, exposed as lily-livered liars, repressed romantics and, in one case, a clingy, crazed fool. I thought most men would act like that around Scarlett Johansson, but maybe I'm stereotyping.
Chris Drummond, a 27-year-old accountant from Reading, was also coerced, by his girlfriend, into seeing the film. He took issue with its fairy-tale morality. "The unwavering positivity of chick flicks was hammered home by the unlikely premise that all the hopeless but nice characters ended up happily loved-up, whereas the sexy or mean characters implausibly ended up alone."
The fact is that chick flicks are getting harder to avoid. They have been a cinema and DVD dead cert for years, but after Mamma Mia! and Sex and the City – respectively the biggest and fifth-biggest films of last year, with combined takings of £97m at the UK box-office – chick flicks have become a blockbuster route to big bucks. He's Just Not That Into You has topped the US box-office for the last two weeks with $28m in takings, and entered the UK top 10 at No 2 with £1.9m.
Hoping to emulate Sex and the City's success in the coming months are Confessions of a Shopaholic; All About Steve (Sandra Bullock meets her "soulmate" on a blind date and proceeds to stalk him from state to state); Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (a chick-flickised Christmas Carol starring Matthew McConaughey. Really); and Marley and Me (Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson adopt a dog to see if they're ready to raise children).
Why women love or hate these films has been much debated, and their portrayals of the female sex endlessly dissected by women. But is there a chance that men, less au fait with chick-flick conventions, might believe that they offer an insight into the workings of the female mind? "No more than action movies give an insight into men," says James Mason, a 28-year-old actuary from Bristol. "Most chick flicks are an exaggeration of reality in order to achieve an enjoyable escapism."
Alex Knights, 29, a commissioning editor, thinks the traditional male aversion to chick flicks is a question of quality. "I like to be challenged when I go the cinema. I can't stand being able to feel the cogs of a feeble plot turning. I feel soiled at having consented to have my emotional strings pulled so blatantly. Richard Curtis films generally make my blood boil." Having said that, he was persuaded to watch Bridget Jones's Diary. "Actually, that was OK. It was mitigated by a sense of humour and it felt like a reasonably original film."
It's time for Hollywood to shake off its rigid perceptions of gender. And though Hollywood advertises it in a far less strident way, men have been going to see the male equivalent of chick flicks for years. "Guy-cry films" are a quietly burgeoning market: a recent poll in Entertainment Weekly drew up a list – including The Shawshank Redemption, Gladiator, Jerry Maguire and Field of Dreams – of the best classic movies to induce tears and male bonding in equal measure. What women (and men) want are high-quality, original films. As Connolly, Cooper and Long satirise so brilliantly in their YouTube clip, Hollywood has relied for too long on tired clichés, cookie-cutter characters – and makeover montages.Reuse content