I have been busy organising A Life In Movies recently (shameless plug, sorry). In my absence Marc from the excellent Go See Talk has stepped into the breach and I think you will agree has done a great job, over to Marc:
In this instalment of Groovers & Mobsters, we’re going to look at the “Buddy” element in modern films. It’s taken many forms over the years and come in a variety of iterations but today we’ll evaluate this absolute classic cinematic formula. It’s proven time and again to be a winner and, most of the time, makes for one very funny outing…especially if the characters aren’t having a good time.
Traditionally a “buddy flick” (or even a “road trip movie”) focuses on a two-man team who has either been willingly or unwillingly paired together because of some mutual plot device. What follows is a series of misadventures befalling the leads as they continually bump heads (either their own, or someone else’s) much to the enjoyment of the viewer. That said, the following bloggers appreciate the subtle and not so subtle “back and forth” that the characters in these films dish out/endure and shine some light on their all time favourite “Buddy flicks”. Enjoy!!
Some Like it Hot (1959)
“We’re up the creek and you want to hock the paddle!”
Looking for a way out of town (fast) after witnessing the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre, two out of work male musicians shave their legs, don woman’s cloths and hide out with an all female band on their way to Florida.
The Buddy films now often referred to as Bromances may have aspects of or even predominately belong to another genres but nearly always have at their heart two protagonists whose relationship is integral to the plot of the movie. It helps that the duo in question are the supremely talented actors, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon who have genuine chemistry. Not forgetting the duo behind the scenes Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond who give them such amazing dialogue tom play with.
The dynamic of the characters is summed up their bickering exchanges: Joe (Tony Curtis) is the smooth talking, risk taking, gambling ladies’ man. He is the one who pawns their overcoats in the middle of winter to place a bet, when they loose he suggests hocking their instruments to place a further bet. But he is also the one who gets the girl in the shape of Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), the band’s singer and ukulele player. Jerry (Jack Lemmon) on the other hand is a more complicated character, more cautious, less of a risk taker, always over thinking things and easily led by Joe. A classic example of this plays out in an early scene, the catalyst for the movies plot when the boys find themselves out of work when the speakeasy the work in is raided by the police.
- Joe: What are you worried about? This job is going to last a long time.
- Jerry: Well, suppose it doesn’t?
- Joe: Jerry, boy, why do you have to paint everything so black? Suppose you got hit by a truck. Suppose the stock market crashes. Suppose Mary Pickford divorces Douglas Fairbanks. Suppose the Dodgers leave Brooklyn!
- Jerry: [Jerry notices the badge of an undercover agent at a nearby table] Joe…?
- Joe: Suppose Lake Michigan overflows.
- Jerry: Well, don’t look now, but the whole town is underwater!
Although the movie is basically made up of one gag after another the actors play it straight and deliver their lines with stone cold sincerity however ridicules they are. It isn’t just the wisecracking banter that make the movie great, the interplay between the characters is utterly sublime with the most impeccable comic timing, bringing out both the best and the worst in each other. This is Curtis and Lemmon at their best making this not only my favourite “buddy movie” but my favourite comedy and possibly my all time favourite movie.
Withnail and I (1987)
“We want the finest wines available to humanity, we want them here and we want them now!”
Withnail and I is a caustic tale of two down on their luck actors living in London in 1969. It stars Richard E. Grant as Withnail and Paul McGann as his roommate and best friend Marwood. The pair live in squalid, rundown accommodation harking back to writer-director Bruce Robinson’s early days as a struggling actor himself. The grime of London’s underclass is in stark contrast with the city’s association to grandeur and riches.
Withnail and Marwood decide that they need a holiday. They leave their Camden Town apartment, heading north to a tranquil countryside retreat thanks to Withnail’s openly homosexual Uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths). The film then follows their misadventures including an impromptu visit from Monty who, unbeknownst to Marwood, arrives on the pretense Withnail’s best friend is also gay and looking for love.
When you strip Withnail and I of its linguistic jousting and infinitely quotable lines, you lay bare a heartfelt parable of two friends fighting themselves. Marwood laments poetically, his inner-monologue introducing the viewer to this urban squalor in Camden’s miserable town, while Withnail’s destruction appears self-warranted, as if his only way to live life to the full is finding the most hallucinogenic way to end it. The film’s heartbreaking finale sees the friendship conclude, with Withnail delivering his finest, and perhaps final, theatrical performance to an uninterested pack of wolves. His injured pride is laid naked on this stage as he reads from Hamlet, which is both a poignant finale and bitter indictment of the situation. It carries more power because Grant so brilliantly encapsulates the scene, Robinson not allowing any cinematic extravagances to take anything away from Withnail’s moment.
Yet it all goes to supplement the film’s wonderful humor. It was voted, unsurprisingly, the third greatest comedy of all time in 2000. Robinson’s script is full of joyous wordage born out pathos, paranoia and bitterness. Infinitely quotable, the film is one of the most oft-imitated and referenced. It sits proudly alongside the likes of This Is Spinal Tap, The Big Lebowski and Some Like It Hot.
“1,000 years from now there will be no guys and no girls, just wankers. Sounds great to me.”
We have all heard and said before: “Drugs are bad”. However, being an addict of any drug isn’t always as bleak as it seems. I do not take any drugs, but I can easily say that no matter what, you never forget about the people around you. So when I was told all about this little piece, and how to contribute, I couldn’t think of a better “buddy film” than Danny Boyle’s 1996 trip into the drug world, Trainspotting.
The central premise behind Trainspotting is about an on-again-off-again Scottish heroin junkie named Renton and the eccentric group of on-again-off-again heroin junkies he hangs out with. This plot line may not make it seem as crazy, but I have to tell you, some stuff really gets out-of-hand, and not in a good way either. And yet, it’s not a bleak picture by any stretch, which made this so much more unusual of a film because everybody is so used to the dark and depressing anti-drug film that will more or less put you on drugs, rather than stir you away from it. There is a constant energy throughout this film filled with humor, gags, and of course, heroin. For every silly and fun moment, there is an equally sad and dark moment. Even though all of these people are on drugs, you still want to somehow hang out with them, because their just so darn lovable.
This was a launching pad for almost every one involved. Danny Boyle had only one film before this and now has a Best Director Oscar thanks to Slumdog Millionaire. Ewan McGregor is in so much, but mostly known as Obi-Wan. Ewen Bremner doesn’t really do much but pops up every once and awhile, Johnny Lee Miller was in Dexter, Robert Carlyle shows up in many films, and Kelly Macdonald has made a real career for herself in roles in stuff like No Country for Old Men, Nanny McPhee, and most famously, Boardwalk Empire.
Trainspotting is one of those films that just is so much fun to watch, even though it has some terribly depressing subject matter. Boyle does a great job of not rubbing our noses in all the crappy situations these characters are put in, he just tells us basically everything we need to know in order to figure it out for ourselves. Trainspotting may be dark but I can promise you, you will have a great time, and stay away from heroin forever.
Shanghai Noon (2000)
“That’s what I said”…”No. You said wet shirt won’t break, not piss shirt bend bars”
When Princess Pei Pei is kidnapped from the Forbidden City, Chon Wang is sent to America to negotiate her ransom. When his uncle is killed in a train robbery gone wrong Chon finds an enemy but later an unlikely friend in outlaw Roy O’Bannon. The two continue Chon’s quest to rescue to princess all the while bumping heads with the locals, a corrupt Marshall and each other every step of the way. In the vein of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid this modern and comical take on a period Western proves to be a winning formula spearheaded by natural and charismatic funny men.
Like any buddy flick, Shanghai Noon shows how the worst in one lead character can be turned to bring out the best in the other. Now, this isn’t a film with a fulfilling character arc that leaving you with a lasting impression. No, this is a straight-up comedy with lots of heart and a story that caters to the lead actors’ styles and sensibilities. In roles they seem almost born to play, or rather how they might act normally, Jackie Chan does his improv kung-fu and pantomime while Owen Wilson does some of his best zany reactions, this time wearing a dashing cowboy hat. It’s all hijinx and hilarity as the two then proceed to get help from pretty much everyone except each other. They become fast friends and start to find their groove even if it’s still just the blind leading the blind.
Shanghai Noon is a fish out of water story and a great iteration of the total opposite/odd couple formula. Further it’s made that much more enjoyable because of the lead roles. Chon was a terrible Imperial Guard but in the West he has no equal. And Roy who after a lifetime of looking out for himself is learning the value of looking out for someone else which in the end yields a pretty endearing friendship. From cultural differences, to tongue in cheek mistranslations, to the each character’s odd yet compatible nature this unsung buddy flick has style and heart in spades. But while most films are content with the idea that the story is a “journey, not a destination”. Shanghai Noon goes one step further. In the end it, does what these types of films do best; leave it wide open to explore the further adventure of these newly minted “buddies”.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
“Take car. Go to Mum’s. Kill Phil, grab Liz, go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of this to blow over. How’s that for a slice of fried gold?”
Here’s to buddies, chums, best pals, amigos, companeros, and hetero lifemates, and what duo so fully epitomizes the spirit of cinematic friendship better than Simon Pegg and Nick Frost? No movie starring these two lads has ever failed to capture their bond and thrive on their chemistry, not simply because they’re both great actors but because their friendship extends beyond the studio and into real life, and essential 2004 offering Shaun of the Dead probably best represents their rapport and dynamic out of all every project they’ve taken on together.When a zombie invasion threatens to spell the end of life as they know it, friends Ed (Frost) and Shaun (Pegg) man up and take it upon themselves to save their friends and loved ones from becoming ghoul chow. We’ve seen zombies invade the world plenty of times before, but never with this much wit and charm; Shaun gets silly, absolutely, but never to the point where director Wright’s intentions are to deride the genre and embarrass its fans. Rather, the film celebrates its horror roots by defining itself as a bona fide entry in the genre, and that genuine love for all things pertaining to the flesh-eating undead hordes shines through in frame after frame.
But as essential as that effusive admiration for zombie fare is to the movie’s success, it’s the friendship between Pegg and Frost that ultimately make the story so special and memorable. Shaun of the Dead isn’t just about the walking dead overtaking the world and devouring the living, and arguably the zombies are just there to frame the narrative concerning the friendship of the picture’s leads. Ed is a career slacker with no designs on improving his life or breaking out of his arrested development; Shaun’s not much better, but he wants to change even if the tools to enact that change have been denied him. And Shaun’s always defending Ed from the other people in his life– Pete, their third roommate, and Liz, Shaun’s girlfriend, for example– despite the fact that the good-natured but unapologetically lazy Ed is kind of indefensible. Shaun of the Dead revolves around their back-and-forth and truly rides on both actors being able to play off of one another, a requirement which the pair effortlessly surpass thanks to their very real off-stage friendship.
In a picture with a lot to offer its viewers, it’s the buddy element that resonates the most with us. Wright brings on the zombies, cheeky comedy, and impressive gore, blending them together to yield one of the best entries in the genre of its time and maybe even all time, but there should be little doubt that Shaun’s secret weapons are Pegg and Frost.
CLERKS II (2006)
“You’re my best friend…and I love you. In a totally heterosexual way”
Closing the book on his View Askewniverse, writer/director Kevin Smith revisits the characters from his debut film with Clerks II, a sequel that picks up more than a decade later and sees slackers Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson), now in their mid thirties, transplanted from the Quick Stop Convenience Store to the world of Mooby’s Fast Food Restaurant.
Like the first film, Clerks II is set over the course of a single work day in the life of its leads, and constructs a lose plot around a series of frank and extraordinarily vulgar discussions about contemporary and popular culture. The excellent dynamic between the laid back Randal and his comic foil, the eternally frustrated Dante makes the dialogue all the more hilarious. In Clerks II, the conversation ranges from Lord of the Rings, the physically handicapped, racial epitaphs, Transformers, Christianity and of course, sexual perversion.
In spite of its extremely adult language however, Clerks II also reveals Smith as something of a sentimentalist. The day on which the film is set is not just any other day; rather, it is Dante’s last day on the job before heading down to Florida with his overbearing fiancée, and it is clear that much has been left unspoken between the two friends. In one of the final scenes in the movie, the unacknowledged tension between Dante and Randall finally bubbles over, and the result it is raw moment of believable emotion not often seen in comedic films
The original Clerks is an anthem by and for the slacker generation. By comparison, Clerks II is a considerably less gritty but far more mature and heartfelt film that feels like the work of a man who has located his place in the world and wants to give his characters the chance to do the same. By the movies end, we can rest assured that Dante and Randall have finally taken control of their lives, and that their friendship will hold strong in spite of any obstacles the future may bring.