From Thelma and Louise to Animals: how female friendships on screen got real

Animals is the latest film to explore womens lives in a refreshingly realistic way. Why did it take Fleabag and Girls for cinema to realise there is more to a narrative than marriage?

When did you last see a film with a friendship between two women that felt real, a friendship that didnt play second fiddle to romance in the narrative arc, that was not trampled over or cast aside in the quest for true love? Love stories about female friends are vanishingly rare. But this summer, Olivia Wildes gorgeous coming-of-age story Booksmart arrived on screen. Now comes Animals, the director Sophie Hydes hedonistic Irish comedy about two best friends, underemployed graduates in their early 30s working as coffee-shop baristas. Imagine the lads from Withnail and I played by Patsy and Edina from Ab Fab and you have a decent impression of hard-partying double-act Laura and Tyler.

By night, you will find the pair played by Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat done up to the nines in charity shop sequins and green eyeliner, snorting, drinking and shagging their way around Dublin while quoting Yeats with grandiose theatrically. No man can keep them apart. When Tyler hooks up with a guy in a bar, she shoots Laura a saucy wink: Give me eight minutes. She is back in time for the next round.

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Laura and Tyler live together, share a bed and pee in front of each other (peering into the loo to inspect the results: You need to drink more water). Humour is the films greatest strength. There are funny and rude scenes that will make you splutter one involving a pretentious poet stagily performing oral sex. However, the moments that stay with you are the serious ones tucked in among the laughs. When Tylers dad dies, she explains everything in a 15-second conversation. They have spent years psychoanalysing their families there is no need to spell out how she is feeling.

You may never have invited a friend to examine your urine, but you will almost certainly experience a jolt of recognition watching the friendship shorthand between these two entire conversations spoken in a couple of glances, inside jokes that no one else can decipher. It is radical, rare and bracing to see female friendship portrayed so intimately. Often it feels as if these relationships are somehow not interesting or important enough to put on a cinema screen.

Lena
Lena Dunhams TV series Girls. Photograph: Mark Schafer/HBO

On television, it is another story, with an explosion in recent series about womanhood that have explored the intense, meaningful, often nigglesome business of being a friend. Over six seasons of Lena Dunhams Girls, Hannahs college friends grew up and grew apart. Broad City observed how love and jobs come and go but, in her 20s, a girls best friend is everything. Fleabag circled the protagonists guilt at betraying her closest friend. Is cinema finally playing catch-up to this golden age of TV?

Hyde tells me she agrees with the comparison to Girls, but points out that Animals is based on a novel by Emma Jane Unsworth (who also wrote the screenplay). Our inspirations were drawn much more closely from our own lives, she says. She also cites films such as Withnail and I and Lynne Ramsays Morvern Callar as big influences.

Hyde says she wanted to make a film about the love between two friends. I feel were told so many narratives about romance as if thats the most important relationship in our life, and it is important. But why are friendships passed over as flippant or a stop-gap until you find the person youre meant to be with? Thats not my experience. Friendships are so formative and they continue to be important through your life. At Q&As after screenings of Animals, she is often asked to name her favourite films about female friendship. Its weird, but when you try and list them, there arent that many.

She has a point. There is no shortage of films about male friendship, so many that we have a vocabulary for them buddy movies, bromances. But the history of cinema is not littered with films about female friendship. Sure, we can all name our favourites The Women, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Girlfriends, 9 to 5, Thelma and Louise and Romy and Micheles High School Reunion. But what is lacking is variety. So often what we are given is saccharine(Boys on the Side, Mystic Pizza,Fried Green Tomatoes) or girls behaving badly (Bridesmaids, Girls Night).

Traditionally, Hollywood has had a major issue with close female friendships. Viewed through a male gaze, it has been jazzed up with a bit of psycho-bitchery or lesbianism. The early 90s gave us the outrageously unfeminist Single White Female (your flatmate loves you so much she kills your dog and rams a stiletto into your boyfriends eye) and The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (begins with a male sexual predator, but quickly turns into the story of a female homicidal maniac). You could position Killing Eve in this schlockily entertaining lineage but, refreshingly, the erotic frisson between Eve and sociopathic assassin Villanelle has nothing to do with guys.

Shelley Cobb, a film historian at the University of Southampton, points out that in Hollywood, friendship between women is usually curtailed or contained by men inevitably relegated to a secondary relationship in the march to the happy-ever-after ending of marriage. Thats why many female friendship films are set in the teenage years and 20s. In the end, the friendship always has to be subordinated to maturity, which usually is signalled by marriage, but also by motherhood, and sometimes the death of one of the friends that sets the others on to the path of adulthood.

Cobb adds: Whether explicitly or not, female friendship is always seen as a threat to the patriarchy, and the structure of film plots and the insistent heterosexuality of Hollywood requires that the threat be contained. Usually marriage is the answer, because most female friendship films are set when women are single and fairly young.

Sticking two fingers up at the patriarchy, todays writers are ditching love and marriage as their happy endings. Instead, the finishing line for their female protagonists is independence and a sense of identity from work.

Beanie
Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever in Booksmart. Photograph: Franois Duhamel/Allstar/Annapurna Pictures

In Animals, Laura (Grainger) has been tinkering away at a novel for a decade and is getting panicky at the thought that her career as a writer is never going to happen. There is a love interest two, in fact but her real dilemma is ambition versus getting wasted every night. Greta Gerwigs Frances Ha, a Woody Allen-ish love story about the ebb and flow of a female friendship, ends similarly with work fulfilment not love. When I interviewed Gerwig a few years ago, she told me that she began writing scripts in frustration at the twentysomething female roles she was being offered: They fall in love or they fall out of love. Its like: Where are the films about female friendship or ambition? Frances Ha fixed that, and Gerwig made her directing debut with Lady Bird, a teen movie in which the heroines really meaningful relationships are with women her best friends and her mum.

If you want to be picky about Animals, some of the hedonistic scenes feel a bit try-hard. But the joy of the film is that it doesnt punish Laura or Tyler for their wild ways. In time, they may decide to grow up and become proper adults, but they regret nothing. Getting trashed is fun, and meaningless sex can be just that, meaningless. And here the film really does break new ground.

Hyde proudly tells me about a comment from someone in an audience: They said: I just want to thank you for not killing one of the characters off, having them OD or step in front of a bus or something. One of Hydes bugbears in films is the female character having a dramatic wake-up call. You know, at the end of the film she takes a bottle of alcohol and tips it down the sink as if thats cleaning up her life. Thats so black and white. The truth is we dont all have this moment of revelation.

Does she have any offending films in mind? Hyde laughs. I dont know if I should say it, but I was super-excited when Trainwreck came out. Amy Schumer is so great. But it was exactly that moment. She tips out the booze and dresses like a cheerleader. And I just felt really unsatisfied by that idea that convention is the answer. It might be for some people, but it isnt for me.

Susan
Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in Thelma And Louise. Photograph: MGM/Everett/Rex Features

So, are the gatekeepers of cinema finally wising up to the audience demand for honest portrayals of women and their friendships? Animals premiered at Sundance in January to positive reviews, but has yet to find a US distributor. What is the problem, I ask. Is it the messy female characters, the sex, or the booze? Hyde laughs. All of the above. I think its all those things. In the US, there was a bit of a question about the drinking, whether they were addicts, which is very American. And some people find the characters abrasive.

Bonnie-Chance Roberts, who is in her late 20s, is a co-producer on the forthcoming film of Caitlin Morans novel How to Build a Girl, starring Emma Thompson and Booksmarts Beanie Feldstein. Does she agree that TV made by women of her generation is shaking up film industry attitudes to female stories? Yes. Theres definitely been a change in the last few years. I think thats also because of the #MeToo movement. People are tearing down walls.

She also believes there is more opportunity for women than ever before: On the producing side, I feel theres more space even between my generation and the generation of my bosses. Theres more space for women coming up and that affects the stories being told. Her bosses are Alison Owen and Debra Hayward, who between them have producer credits on Suffragette, Bridget Joness Baby and Atonement.

What is interesting when talking to Roberts is how much of Hollywood conventional wisdom she rejects. It is often taken as a given that men wont go to see a movie with a female protagonist. That is not only outdated, but out of step with her experience, she says. I have a 21-year-old brother and he went to see Booksmart because he wanted to see it. He didnt think: Thats a girls film. Its changing, especially for younger generations.

How to Build a Girl is a coming-of-age comedy and we have a female protagonist. Obviously, thats very important to the identity of the movie but its also not just a womens film. Its about learning and making mistakes. And figuring out who you are. You cant identify it purely as a movie for women.

For Roberts, it is about seeing more womens stories on screen. We grew up identifying with the male identity, and there were many shades of that identity. Theres Ferris Bueller or Call Me By Your Name. These movies dont just look at one part of masculinity. Whereas I think that, traditionally, womens stories have been told through certain genres, a love story or a tragedy.

What can we expect as this supertalented generation of women creators get older and make content that reflects their experiences of their 40s, 50s and beyond? In Animals, Tyler jokes to Laura that they are destined to grow old together: One day its just going to be me and you pissing in each others beds. Yet there isnt a model for friends living together society doesnt sanction wandering hand in hand into the sunset with your best friend. But you know never know. I cant have been the only one to share with my friends the news story of a group of seven girlfriends in China clubbing together to buy their dream retirement home. So lets hear it for Phoebe Waller-Bridges Golden Girls.

Original Article : HERE ; The Ultimate Survival Food: The Lost Ways

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