Buddy movies, romance and gender expectation


Is…is it over? Has Valentine’s Day gone yet? Can I go back to wallowing in perpetual solitude without being made to feel self-conscious about it by an arbitrary point on the calendar? Has every other movie site out there stopped shoving romantic comedies and “ideal date movies” (whatever that means) down our collective throat?

Well good. We’re over the hump now (hur hur) and so I thought I’d discuss how movies that focus on platonic friendships between men and women. How are these everyday relationships portrayed?

The answer is: barely.

Turns out there’s a reason why such films aren’t often talked about: they are super, super rare. I have a theory as to why this is, and it’s to do with filmmakers’ collective inability to think beyond established story formula.

The buddy movie probably started with the odd couple comedies of duos like Laurel & Hardy and Abbot & Costello, but over the years they have developed into more nuanced looks at the dynamics of male friendship, giving rise to subgenres like the buddy western, the buddy road movie and the buddy cop film. The comedic through line of these films varies, but the focus on male friendship dynamics is a constant. The latest iterations of these movies are often referred to by the hideous term “bromance”, though the only appreciable difference between these and older buddy comedies is a reflection of an encouraging modern trend: nowadays men are better emotionally equipped to outright tell each other: “I love you”.

Female buddies movies are historically somewhat rarer, and tend more towards small groups of friends than duos. The first female buddy is usually sited as Thelma & Louise, though more recent examples (Pitch Perfect, Bridesmaids, Sex & The City etc) tend more towards the comedic.

But there isn’t a comparable genre dealing with male and female buddies. Compounding this problem is the prevailing tendency to crowbar heteronormative romance into every available crevice. My go-to example of this is The Breakfast Club, a supposed friendship drama in which a depressing chunk of the running time is devoted to pairing off characters who don’t even seem to like each other that much.

Furthermore, there’s an idea out there that men and women simply cannot be friends for…reasons. This is stated outright in When Harry Met Sally: “men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” It’s a cute line, but it only bears any resemblance to the real world if you’re a character in a Nora Ephron movie from the eighties.

There are outliers, though not many. Lost in Translation‘s tale of two lost people finding solace in each other is told like, and often mistaken for, a whirlwind romance. Conversely, in Rocky Balboa, Rocky takes Marie and her son under his wing but is very clear that he’s not looking for a replacement for his dead wife: “you know, Adrian, she’s gone, but she’s not really gone.” Adam Elliot’s 2009 animated film Mary and Max is an especially lovely example, about a lifelong pen friendship between a writerly young Australian woman and an older autistic American man.

If you can think of any other examples I’d very much like to hear them.

The confused relationship movies have with platonic friendship is a relatively minor one, I know that; Hollywood in particular has massive problems with representation. But it’s a strange quirk of our movies that goes largely unnoticed. Every other movie is some sort of romance and, in effect, Valentine’s Day never really ends.

So much for getting over the hump. (Hur hur.)