A friend mentioned to me she likes my reviews and movie recommendations because I’ve never reviewed a “chick flick.”
That got me thinking. The movies I chose to review do seem to follow a similar theme. I like thrillers and mysteries, intrigue and drama. I’ve reviewed a few comedies in my brief time as a critic, but I can’t say I’ve ever taken the time to sit down and watch, then review, a “chick flick.” But the genre exists for a reason. People must like these sometimes over-saccharine bouts of fantasy so simple logic dictates they can’t all be bad. So I set out to find just the right “chick flick” to share with you, the reader.
First off, the term “chick flick” is vague at best. Rather than bouncing around and trying to find the end-all be-all description of the genre, I’ll settle for the Dictionary.com definition: “a movie that appeals to women, usually having a romantic or sentimental theme.” It’s short and sweet and seemingly encompasses a wide range of films. The little-known 2008 film “The Ramen Girl” fits right in the range, and is truly a delight and standout in the genre.
The film starts in familiar territory. Abby (Brittany Murphy) is a fish out of water in Tokyo. She’s traveled to the far-away land to be with her boyfriend, Ethan (Gabriel Mann). Abby expects a wild and romantic ride on foreign soil, but the rug is pulled out from under her when Ethan explains he never wanted her to follow him to Japan in the first place. He explains he likes that he can pack up his life in two bags and move at a moment’s notice, and Abby, unfortunately, just doesn’t accessorize well with his luggage.
It’s a predictable and shallow move from the boyfriend, but we also see a bit into Abby’s character here. There’s no question she’s a victim in the situation, but it’s not just Ethan who is to blame. Abby is goalless in life and seems to have a history of clinging to the lives of others. It goes unsaid, but I got the impression that Abby would be perfectly happy being “Ethan’s Girlfriend” rather than an individual. She has trouble just being Abby largely because she doesn’t know who Abby is.
Jilted and dumped in a strange land, Abby catches the magical music emanating from a ramen shop just down the street from her apartment. Wandering in, soaked from the rain and tears, she meets the ramen chef, Maezumi (Toshiyuki Nishida), and his wife. She also meets her destiny in a bowl of steaming noodles. Something awakens inside of Abby. There is beauty and joy in Maezumi’s ramen, and for the first time Abby finds a goal that is personal to her. She want’s to make people happy and share the joy granted by simple bowl of ramen.
Maezumi reluctantly takes her as his apprentice, and we’re treated to scenes of the cruel mentor and the befuddled student. There are hints of “The Karate Kid” here in which Abby is forced through strange menial labor seemingly unrelated to the goal. While Daniel-san had to wax cars and paint fences, Abby is tasked with cleaning dishes and toilets. It isn’t until Abby returns to her apartment, sore and tired, that she realizes her life is an utter mess. Maezumi is not just telling her to clean his establishment, but herself as well.
Going back the genre of “chick flicks,” “The Ramen Girl” takes the themes and turns them slightly on their head. Yes, there is romance and a sentimentality, and even the requisite scene of Abby dancing by herself in her vacant apartment for no apparent reason — I’m imagining this scene was shot specifically for the trailer. But the romance isn’t the typical love story between a boy and a girl. It’s about discovering the love and passion within yourself and the joy that can come from sharing that. The sentimentality is found in the discovery of Abby’s spirit and her embrace of her own sadness.
Murphy is utterly believable in the moments of sadness. Perhaps it’s knowledge of her too-early death that I am reading in her. It’s a horrible shame the actress did not go through the same transformation and realization of her character — perhaps she’d still be with us today. I miss Murphy as an actress, and “The Ramen Girl” is a prime example of the greatness she was capable of bringing to the screen.
The important characters are given just enough depth to be believable and not taken just as window dressing. There are some elements and characters that seem to detract from the story a small bit, and the pacing sometimes suffers as the film gravitates toward too-familiar romantic comedy territory. It also appears that the dialogue was changed in postproduction as some swear words have been overdubbed, most likely in interest of earning a more friendly rating.
But the primary focus of the film is the relationship of student and teacher, and when the film stays on target it really hits the sweet spot. Ramen is much more than the 10-for-a-dollar packets of college dorm food we are familiar with, and perhaps, when handled with spirit and heart, “chick flicks” can be a welcome addition to any cinematic appetite.
The Ramen Girl (2008)
Starring: Brittany Murphy, Toshiyuki Nishida, Tammy Blanchard
Director: Robert Allan Ackerman
Runtime: 102 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some sexual content