The "buddy film" has existed ever since the famous comedy duos of the silent era, but the 1980s were a particular fruitful time for the genre. There were buddy cops, buddy renegades, buddy action stars, and buddy time travelers. Thelma & Louise became a direct response to the ever-increasingly macho man genre, capturing a friendship not often portrayed on the screen. They make mistakes together, they work through relationships together, they grow together. It also showed that a film can explore typical female film themes, like dealing with a difficult and unhappy relationship, in exciting ways. Thelma & Louise has gone on to inspire many female buddy pairings, but it also wasn't the first to explore the issue. The following films exploring very different types of female friendships are all available to stream now on Netflix.
Tangerine [Sean Baker, 2015]
Tangerine was groundbreaking from the very beginning of its production by taking on a very difficult political and social issue through the filter of the female buddy comedy. But that isn't the only groundbreaking thing about Tangerine: it was the first feature film to screen at Sundance shot entirely on an iPhone. Mya Taylor broke out to become the first transgender actress to receive to win an Independent Spirit Award and a Gotham Award. In the film, Sin-Dee Rella [Kitana Kiki Rodriguez] is released after 28-days in prison. Alexandra [Taylor] lets it slip that Sin-Dee’s boyfriend has been cheating on her in her time away, and the rest of the film builds into a funny and dramatically realistic chase through Los Angeles. Much like Thelma & Louise, Tangerine ranges from hilarious to devastating, and reinforces the meaning and importance of true friendship.
Girlhood [Céline Sciamma, 2014]
Released around the same time as similarly named Boyhood, this French drama may not have the same impressive indie film cred, but it is just as effective as a incredibly specific coming-of-age drama. Director Celine Sciamma’s past films have explored sexuality [Water Lilies] and gender identity [Tomboy], and Girlhood uses her eye for differing social situations to explore the life of a black teenager in rough neighborhoods surrounding Paris. Already struggling with an overworked mother and an abusive brother, Marieme finds her way into a gang of girls that offer support, but also help send her down a violent path. Girlhood explores the choices made in youth that impact our lives into adulthood, and recalls how quick decisions by Thelma and Louise changed their fates. Karidja Toure's debut performance is mesmerizing, and reason enough to take the time to watch Girlhood.
Frances Ha [Noah Baumbach, 2012]
Greta Gerwig, who also co-wrote this vibrant love letter to being a young adult in New York City, plays Frances, an aspiring dancer whose most important relationship is with longtime friend Mickey. When Mickey enters a serious romantic relationship, Frances is left behind. Much of Frances Ha follows the fall out of this relationship and how it sets the title character out of New York and back again. Frances evolves in each location with a new set of hipster friends, finally finding her way back to best friend Mickey. Overcoming difficult times as relationships naturally evolve connects to Thelma & Louise overcoming their hardest moments that seemed sure to prevent reconciliation. While I’m not usually a fan of Noah Baumbach’s films, this is a rare exception, in part because of its portrayal of female friendships.
Arranged [Diane Crespo & Stefan C. Schaefer, 2007]
Zoe Lister-Jones and Francis Benhamou star in this odd couple story of an unlikely duo from opposing backgrounds and overcoming decades of political strife to form a close friendship. The two women [one an orthodox Jew, the other a devout Muslim] are first-year teachers at a public school in Brooklyn, and despite their extremely different backgrounds, they come to realize how much they have in common. Arranged recalls Thelma & Louise in its lead characters bonding together while each woman is dealing with tumultuous situations at home---in this case both women are going through arranged marriages, thus the title. The film maybe cuts through the dramatic backdrop a bit too easily, but it is a strong example of an unusual female friendship.
Girls Just Want to Have Fun [Alan Metter, 1985]
With very early performances from Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt, and a brief performance by Shannon Doherty, Girls Just Want to Have Fun is exactly the kind of bubblegum entertainment you'd expect from the title---a quintessential 1980’s movie about two best friends entering a dance competition, and falling in love along the way. Janey [Parker] is the new girl in town. All of the now all-too-familiar character tropes are present: the mean girl, the boy with a passion for something [as often, dance] but pressured by his father to do something else that he hates instead and who serves as the love interest, the goofy sister of said love interest, and many of the other character types that have been borrowed by popular 90’s teen comedies. The film is quite honestly ridiculous, but fun in a nostalgic, lighthearted way, and its high school female friendships feel so familiar.
Here are more suggestions for films available for digital rental across most platforms:
Outrageous Fortune [Arthur Hiller, 1987]
All I Wanna Do [Sarah Kernochan, 1998]
Made in Dagenham [Nigel Cole, 2010]
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan [Wayne Wang, 2011]
The Sapphires [Wayne Blair, 2012]