complex, varied, deep: female friendship in seven films
Friendships are as complex and varied as the people in them. It’s one thing for a film to pass the Bechdel test, but it’s sometimes hard to find in depth explorations of female friendship. These films are some of my favourites, and they all contain very different yet interesting portrayals of girlfriends.
Thelma & Louise, 1991 – Fatal Friendship
When you think of female friendships in film, you probably think of the iconic Thelma and Louise. I know I do. But I hadn’t seen this film for a long time and what I remembered was girl power, cowboys, a convertible and a lot of high waisted denim. That’s not all there is to this film; it’s actually pretty dark. There’s a rape, murder and double suicide. But these women are tough and their commitment to each another is absolute. The chemistry between Geena Davis (Thelma) and Susan Sarandon (Louise) is undeniable and makes this friendship believable and even enviable – to a point. Anyone got a friend who’d drive off a cliff for them? Hopefully it doesn’t come to that, but this film is one hell of a ride.
Clueless, 1995 – High School Friendship
Is there anything about life you can’t learn from a high school movie? Or a Jane Austen novel? Clueless seamlessly combines both. Cher (Alicia Silverstone) and her best friend Dionne (Stacey Dash) are pretty, popular and shallow. When goofy but adorable stoner, Tai (Brittany Murphy) enrolls in school they decide to give her a makeover so she can be like them. Of course it backfires and they create a monster. Lessons? There are plenty – like being popular won’t make you happy and tartan miniskirts aren’t for everyone. But navigating your way through high school (or life) is easy if you have good friends who have your back, call you out on your bullshit and love you for who you are.
Mulholland Drive, 2001 – Fantasy Friendship
If this David Lynch film feels like a dream, it’s because it is. Beautiful and mysterious Rita (Laura Harring) has lost her memory after a car accident. Perky aspiring actress, Betty (Naomi Watts) helps her to uncover her identity. The women grow close and develop an intense friendship. They discover a dead body, sleep together and go to a bizarre concert. This is a surreal and haunting film and a captivating relationship. But it turns out that it’s all in Betty’s head – well, Diane’s head because it turns out she’s not actually Betty. This doesn’t diminish the power of the friendship for me. Sure, it’s a little tragic, but haven’t we all been on one side of an uneven friendship before?
The Descent, 2005 – Horrifying Friendship
The girls in The Descent seem like they’d be fun friends to have. They’re active, adventurous and brave. Their idea of a good time is to go on a girly caving expedition. Sarah (Shauna McDonald) is mourning the loss of her daughter and husband. Juno (Natalie Mendoza) has a terrible secret. Well, two. She was having an affair with Sarah’s husband before he died and she’s led the group into an unmapped cave system. The friendship between Sarah and Juno is so toxic it may just be worse than the flesh-eating monsters lurking in the cave. Some friendships just aren’t good. I love that this film explores these dynamics while fighting terrifying monsters underground.
Pitch Perfect, 2012 – Harmonious Friendship
Pitch Perfect is a film about competing collegiate a cappella groups, and it’s amazing. There’s a boys versus girls thread running through it, but it’s too hilarious to be mean-spirited. At its heart is the friendship between a motley group of weirdoes who make music with their mouths. Beca (Anna Kendrick) joins the Barden Bellas under duress after making a deal with her dad. She wants to be a DJ and thinks she’s too cool for a cappella. But she gets sucked in by a dysfunctional bunch of girls who are as infectious as their harmonies. Pitch Perfect celebrates the joy of unleashing your inner nerd with a group of like-minded friends.
The Heat, 2013 – Unlikely Friendship
The Heat is an odd couple comedy. Detectives Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) and Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) are assigned to work a case together. Ashburn is an ace at her job but she’s an uptight stickler who’s smug and not much of a people person. Mullins plays by her own rules, is aggressive and her personal hygiene leaves a lot to be desired. What happens? Hilarity ensues, obviously. And as these mismatched cops solve a case they learn something about themselves and become good mates. It’s a buddy cop story we’ve seen before, but rarely (if ever) with women. Thanks to Katie Dippold for this smart and funny script. I can’t wait to see what she does with Ghostbusters.
Happy Christmas, 2014 – Sisterly Friendship
This is a low budget indie film from director Joe Swanberg. It’s about family, friendship and getting your groove back. Jenny (Anna Kendrick) comes to stay with her brother and his family. She’s a bit of a screw up but she bonds with her sister-in-law, Kelly (Melanie Lynskey). Helped by her friend Carson (Lena Dunham), Jenny encourages Kelly to start writing again. So together they plot a romance novel. It’s a supportive, sisterly relationship and it made me want to hang out with my siblings and write a raunchy novel – probably not at the same time though. The dialogue in this film is mostly improvised, giving all the relationships an authentic feel. It’s not a perfect film but it’s warm and charming. The friendships portrayed are honest but fun, just the way I like them.