Sunday, January 13, 2008

Superbad, Leah McLaren, and the Chick-Buddy Flick

Plenty of critics have been praising Superbad for its depiction of male friendship. The scene where Evan and Seth say those magical three words ("I - Love - You ... Man" - okay, it's four I guess) is generally cited as proof that the latest offering from Seth Rogen (he of Judd Apatow/Steve Carell/Frat-Pack-thunder-stealing fame) is moving beyond the typical buddy flick and finally making it okay for men to express their platonic feelings for each other.

Last week, Leah McLaren joined in with a column in The Globe and Mail, called Lament for the Female Friendship Flick. She, too, praised Superbad's depiction of male friendship, and argued that similar depictions of female friendship are sadly lacking:

"Watching two pubescent man-children sweetly bumble their way around the screen for almost two hours got me wondering why there aren't many similar movies aimed at women, and to the extent that there are, why they are crap or depressing or both.

Take Thelma and Louise. While arguably the most successful female buddy movie ever made, the price these women paid for enjoying each other's company is harsh. One is raped, the other is robbed and in the end they both drive off a cliff. In Steel Magnolias, Julia Roberts dies of diabetes complications after having a child, and in Beaches Barbara Hershey is stricken down with the big C. In the Witches of Eastwick, Susan Sarandon, Cher and Michelle Pfeiffer are put through the (literal) hell of sex with Jack Nicholson and in Ghost World Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch drift apart after high school and make each other miserable over a middle-aged male character actor. It would seem that girls who get along in the movies either have to die or sleep with Steve Buscemi."

McLaren takes a look at a few theories to explain this void. Could it be a cynical number-crunching game, where male buddy-movies have cross-over box office appeal but chick flicks don't? A result of male domination in the screenwriting, directorial and production levels of Hollywood? Or - most sinister of all - is it because women don't really form genuine friendships with each other? Are we simply out to steal each other's menfolk and give each other eating disorders?

Thankfully, McLaren doesn't support this last hypothesis - although just raising it prompted an awful lot of hideously sexist responses on the Comments board. (Shouldn't these people be reading the Sun? Or the National Enquirer?) But her column got me thinking about depictions of female friendship on film, and the only conclusion I came to is that she just plain didn't look hard enough for positive ones. What criteria did she use to define "female friendship flick"? Because most, if not all, chick flicks contain at least a token "loyal female" sidekick. If she's disqualifying movies that also contain significant romantic sub-plots, then Superbad shouldn't count either - the girls do, after all, play a major role even if the movie's central message is about the boys and their friendship.

Herewith, a short list of chick flicks that feature, in my book, prominent positive depictions of female friendship:

1) Now and Then - This movie was a fixture at slumber parties when I was in junior high, sort of a female Stand By Me without the dead body. The boys barely show up in it at all - although the two scenes with a young Devon Sawa were always rewound again and again and again...

2) Miss Congeniality and Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous. I've dealt with these before in Chicks Who Fight Crime - the second one doesn't even have a romantic subplot! Not even a little one!

3) Bridget Jones' Diary - Yeah yeah, obviously this one is all about the man-chasing. But Jude and Shazzer (and Tom - do gay men count here?) are crucial pillars of support, her "urban family" as Bridget puts it. They even understand when she bails on the Paris trip - now that's platonic love, isn't it?

4) Circle of Friends – There’s some big-time female betrayal from one of Minnie Driver’s friends in this one, but also an equally big-time display of loyalty from the other. I’m going to count it.

5) Strike, Mona Lisa Smile, Dick, and probably several other Kirsten Dunst movies of debatable quality. This seems to be one of her specialties.

Got any more? I know I’m only scratching the surface here…

ps: Since I originally posted this, the original article has gone offline. Leah never responded to my email about this, either. Sigh.

1 comment:

Virginia said...

Here's another one: Romy and Michele's High School Reunion

I loved this female buddy comedy, and wish there were more movies made like it!