Do's & Don'ts For Female Friendship Movies That Will Ensure They Pass The Bechdel Test
Men have bromance movies, but what do you call movies about female friendship? It's the question I recently asked myself and honestly, I couldn't come up with an answer. Buddy movie? No, that doesn't sound quite gender specific enough. A femance movie? Nah, that just sounds too made up for anyone to take seriously. It seems that there just isn't a word for it, and it's most likely because movies dedicated to female friendships are few and far between.
Men write a majority of Hollywood movies — New York Film Academy reported that only 15 percent of the top 250 movies in 2012 were written by women — and aren't well-versed in the topic of female friendship. How could they be really since they don't experience it, just observe it? Female friendship is a rather complex topic and it's no surprise that the few films that truly portray female friendship in a meaningful way — Bridesmaids, Thelma & Louise, Romy and Michele's High School Reunion — were written by women.
But there don't just need to be more films featuring stories that put the meaningful bonds between women first — there need to be more films doing it right. That in mind, I put together this handy list of do's and don'ts for female friendship movies. This should be any screenwriters' checklist for writing female-focused movies that remove all traces of female friendship tropes.
DON'T: Have Them Fight Over A Guy
This is the biggest no-no of any movie about female friendship. Sorry to break it to you guys, but bonds between women are seldom broken over men (especially good bonds or good men.) Despite what you see in the movies, women aren't always in competition for a man's affection. Besides, close female relationships are rarely so fragile that a good-looking guy could tear it all down with one come hither glance. That's why the first step to making a better movie about female friendship is to take this weak plot twist right off the storyboard. Like, forever, so we never have to see it again.
DO: Show Them Supporting One Another
This doesn't mean these women can't have fights or disagreements. A good friend will always call you on your bullsh*t. But, the best female friendships are the ones that have two women sticking together no matter what. This could be Romy and Michelle pretending to have invented Post-It notes so they can impress at their high school reunion, or Thelma and Louise taking a “if we go down, we go down together” approach to their eternal bond. Of course, the movie doesn't have to end with anyone driving off a cliff, but it should show that these are women who are friends forever and will do whatever it takes to keep it that way.
DON'T: Think You Need To Treat These Female Characters Like They're So Different Than Men
If Bridesmaids taught us anything, it's that women can be just as raunchy as men. They can drink, curse, use sinks as impromptu toilets, and leave you in stitches while doing all of it. Because, guess what? This is really how women act when they're together, it just rarely makes it into the movies. It's about time screenwriters stopped writing stories that make it seem like men are from Mars and women are from Venus, and realize we're all from the same Earth.
DO: Make Them Complex & Individual Characters
There isn't just one kind of woman, and there definitely isn't just one kind of female friendship. This is something a movie about women who are best friends needs to take into account. In Clueless, Cher and Dionne were besties because they both knew what it was like to have people be jealous of them, but they were each their own distinct person. They bonded over helping teachers find love, but they had their own opinions — specifically, when it came to the opposite sex. This was a great, healthy, and realistic depiction of a female friendship.
DON'T: Think It Has To Be A Tearjerker
Sure, Beaches is good for a cry, but not every movie about female friendship has to end in tears. And it definitely doesn't have to end with someone getting cancer. This doesn't mean a tear won't be shed while watching two women spill their emotions, but it doesn't have to be because one of them is dying.
DO: Treat It Like It's A Love Story
Frances Ha may have said it best about what having a best friend is really like: "It's that thing when you're with someone, and you love them and they know it, and they love you and you know it, but it's a party and you're both talking to other people, and you're laughing and shining and you look across the room and catch each other's eyes. But — but not because you're possessive, or it's precisely sexual but because that is your person in this life." Doesn't that sound magical? Having a best friend is the truest love one can feel and a story about friendship is a kind of love story. It's a bond that is unlike the one you have with a partner or a sibling, it's something all its own. A movie needs to treat it that way.
DON'T: Think These Women Have To Be Likable
These women don't have to be perfect. Sometimes a friendship can be a toxic one. (See: the decades-spanning Me Without You , starring Michelle Williams.) But, one of the friends doesn't have to be the good one while the other is the bad one — these women should be multi-layered. They should make mistakes and face the consequences of them. They should feel real, like people you know. If you don't like them for that, then that's just too bad.
DO: Have Them Talk About Something Other Than Men
If these kinds of movies don't pass the Bechdel Test, then what hope do we have for movies that aren't explicitly about female friendship? None, that's what.
DON'T: Show Them Only Growing Apart, Show Them Growing Together
Life is full of challenges, as is friendship. The best female friendship movies understand this. In Bridesmaids, Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph's characters are in totally different stages of their lives. It causes a rift, with each feeling like the other is pulling away. But despite giving the bridal party food poisoning and getting thrown off a plane, Wiig was still the one Rudolph wanted there when she got cold feet. Who else was going to Pretty In Pink her awful wedding dress? And that's the power of these kinds of intense friendships; the best of them can survive anything.
DO: Know That Female Friendship Can Be A Part Of Any Movie
Meaning a movie doesn't have to be specifically pegged as a female buddy movie to include women who are friends. You can actually write a drama, a comedy, or even a horror movie that still explores female friendship in a meaningful way. I know, crazy, right? Think of I Love You, Man. This is a story about male friendship, but throughout the film, you get a good look at how women interact as friends, too. In fact, this movie shows how friendship can be different between the sexes in a way that feels realistic and not played for laughs. Good job everyone!
With this step-by-step guide, my hope is that we'll not only see more movies that feature female friendship, but a higher caliber of movies that do so.
Image: MGM; Giphy (10)