Every so often a new subgenre of films is recognized and named: recently on Film Youtube we have Be Kind, Rewind’s excellent video on what she calls “Book Club Cinema,” the recently resurging films that focus on an ensemble cast of well-known, older actors (usually all women) dealing with the impacts of old age through a lighthearted comedy. Think Book Club, of course, but also 80 for Brady or The First Wives Club, or even Mama Mia!.
Although on its surface these sub-genre inventions seem like fun thought exercises (example: how many buddy movies based in Chicago can you name?), they also spark a conversation about what they don’t contain and why: Book Club Cinema is clearly a white, straight genre, which BKR notes as highlighting which actresses were allowed to age and remain relevant, or become legends of cinema in the first place. Testing the limits and definitions of genre is an important aspect of film criticism, which is why I thought I’d throw my cap in the ring with a genre I want to call “Gal Cinema.”
Gal Cinema is, in short, fun films about women: not romcoms or hard-hitting dramas, not multi-generational tragedies or superhero epics. These are films that prominently feature female relationships, especially loving and supportive friendships. They’re also films about adult women, usually of the same generation, as high school and girlhood stories should be understood on their own terms. So I’m imagining something like 9 to 5 or The First Wives Club (I’m sure there’s overlap with Book Club cinema), branching into sports films like A League of their Own, action flicks like Charlie’s Angels, or 90s dramedies like Practical Magic.
I want to explore this genre idea more, and might do a series of essays on these films and what they do (and don’t) contain — given the examples already provided, you can probably already see the gaps in the genre’s canon, and the observations we can make thereof.
But, to get started, I wanted to make a list of parameters for what I think does make up a Gal Cinema film, followed by a list of tropes that several films seem to share. Without further ado:
A Gal Cinema Film Should Check Most of These Boxes:
- The main character is an adult woman, post-teenager
- If there are multiple main characters, they are all women
- If there is one main character, at least two of the other female characters are shown to have rich, full lives and are well represented in the story
- The women are generally of the same generation — no mother/daughter or mentor/mentee stories
- The main character(s) relationships with the other women close to her are defined by respect, love, and support
- The tone of the film is mostly comedic, with dramatic story beats but nothing severe
- The strength of the character’s relationship is key to their succeeding in their goals
- Any love interests are secondary to the story
Gal Cinema Films Might Also Contain These Tropes:
- The women are iconoclasts in their community
- The women all share a business/team/band
- The plot centers around the success of said business/team/band
- Only one of the women will have a budding romance story
- At the climax of the film the women will admit how important they are to each other
- There will be an important scene where the women all dance/sing/cook together
- One of the women will find out that their love interest wasn’t who they thought they were
- The film will end with the women all together, not going their separate ways
And there you have it! In an essay series I’ll not only discuss these films in conversation with each other, but also study their flaws and misses: can we have Gal Cinema that’s also diverse? Are all Gal Cinema films feminist? Is only one of the Mamas Mia! a Gal Cinema film?
Stay tuned to find out!