By Becky Matthews
The BFI recently shared this lovely set of photographs of the friendship between Janet Leigh and Elizabeth Taylor. Two screen legends, at the height of their fame in an era where Hollywood and the media in general loved to stir up rivalry between leading women.
Fortunately, there is a new generation of female writers and performers who are redressing the balance in a world of bromance culture.
Bridesmaids took a lot of well-worn rom-com / wedding comedy tropes and turned them around. Instead of Kristen Wiig’s Annie fighting for the affection of a man, she’s fighting to feel a part of her best friend’s life as their personal circumstances and lifestyles grow further apart. As Greta Gerwig pointed out in a radio interview I heard, Wiig also had to make a choice between ‘the pretty one’ – John Hamm and ‘the nice one’ – the caring, cake-baking cop, played by Chris O’Dowd. She rightly pointed out that in doing so Bridesmaids was reversing the roles played by women for years.
This brings me neatly to Frances Ha, one of my favourite films of 2013. Co-written by its star,Greta Gerwig, along with Director Noah Baumbach. As Gerwig told Flavorwire, the story was written following the classic rom-com beats; girl has girl, girl loses girl, girl becomes jealous etc. It’s a platonic love story between two women. One of the saddest scenes in the film is Frances, feeling out of place at a fancy dinner party, without Sophie. She seems entirely disconnected from world her best friend has become immersed in. It’s funny, it’s touching and highly relatable.
It’s a shame though, that for every Bridesmaids or Frances Ha in the box office, we have to endure a slew of laddish fare (Seriously, did we need 3 Hangover films? and That Awkward Moment was originally named Are We Officially Dating?, presumably in an effort to attract female viewers – nice one, folks.) However, I’m not hating on buddy-movies; there are some fantastic male-friendship tales which aren’t macho or misogynistic. The brilliant Shaun of the Dead is very funny and even quite sweet in places, and the scenes between Shaun and Ed take equal weighting with those of Shaun trying to woo Liz back.
More recently Prince Avalanche was a touching and funny exploration of how two very different men bond in adverse circumstances.
An honourable nod should be made to some iconic 90s female friendship tales: Thelma and Louise and Muriel’s Wedding in particular, but it feels like there was a long period of time where there was a notable gap in market for decent stories about female friendships until recently.
The kids are doing alright too; Lukas Moodysson’s We Are The Best captures the up and down nature of teenage girl friendships, and is full of the spirit of being young and full of musical ambition. It passes the Bechdel test with flying colours, but it’s no teenage-angst fest. It’s full of warmth, charm and wit.
I was lucky enough to see it at London Film Festival last year, but it will be out properly in the UK this spring – seek it out.
Over on the small screen, friendships of young American women are getting prime air time. Much has been written about Lena Dunham and her co-stars but a sentence left on Hannah’s laptop and read by Marnie pretty much sums up the nature of their relationship, and what makes this show so compelling to watch; “A friendship between college girls is grander and more dramatic than any romance”. In art, as in life, female friendships are complex and beautiful. Your best friend can sometimes feel like your greatest rival, at least when you’re young. From the playground up, we love one another, and yes, of course at times, fall out. However, if one of our team is in trouble we’ll come running back to rescue them from a bully/break-up/ terrible accommodation situation or emotional breakdown.
Before I get too schmaltzy on the subject, it’s time to mention the newest kid on the block: Broad City. It’s drawn some comparisons with Girls (even cited by some as the ‘anti’ Girls which entirely misses the point of both shows). For starters Broad City is focused on two main characters and is more overtly a comedy than a comedy drama. It began life as a web series and is now produced by Amy Poehler for Comedy Central. It follows the misadventures of Abbi and Ilana, played by Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer who also write the show. They are two stoner best friends living in run-down Brooklyn neighbourhoods, and it shows the less fabulous side of being a 20-something female in an over-priced city. It’s quick-witted, and sublimely ridiculous, from Ilana storing weed in her “nature’s pocket” on the subway and taking whole-afternoon lunch breaks, to Abi’s constant domestic stand offs with her flatmate’s gross boyfriend over stolen cheese and loo roll. You see, the flipside of ‘having it all’ is having no clue or indeed cash at all.
There is more where that came from too, new female-led comedy series are appearing on the internet all the time. I tip my hat to all those I’ve mentioned, and eagerly await more. Female friendship stories have always been there, they’re just commanding a bit more attention now.
Becky is a writer and digital content producer from London. She writes about music at www.kidvinyl.co.uk and loves to bang on about pop culture in general. She writes as part of the Kaylosia comedy collective and has written and directed her first short film Double Word Score, which is a date film for two people who aren’t really sure if they’re on one. She’s especially fond of vinyl, Kate Bush, Prince, Pixies, red lipstick, Wes Anderson films, Chris Morris, Lena Dunham, Bruce Lee, Bill Murray, noodles, hula-hooping, Hampstead Heath, independent cinemas and puns. Read more from Becky at www.becky-matthews.com