Beyond "Girls": My 5 Favorite Female Friendships On TV and Film
Like many adolescent girls, my earliest and perhaps most intimate emotional relationships were not sexual or physical ones -- though they functioned and grew dysfunctional in similar ways.
In many ways, our best friends are our first loves. They teach us how to be vulnerable and feel wounded. Long before the vows of marriage or teen romance, we tell our best friends our most private secrets and make promises to them that we will almost inevitably betray. When we say we will love them forever or the most, it is for the first time, so we actually believe it. Here are some of my all time favorite platonic love stories.
1. "FRANCES HA"
“It's this secret world that exists right there in public, unnoticed, that no one else knows about.” A slightly boozy Frances Halladay explains. “It's sort of like how they say that other dimensions exist all around us, but we don't have the ability to perceive them. That's...that's what I want out of a relationship. Or just life, I guess.” Her soliloquy is mostly lost on her dinner hosts, but Frances/Gerwig’s haunting candor pierces through to the viewer.
Frances’s bumbling pursuit of adult life begins when her life-long bestie moves out, leaving the aspiring dancer both literally and figuratively adrift. Though Sophie gets relatively little screen time, their friendship acts as a backdrop to the entire film. Baumbach’s piece is celebratory; it affirms the profoundly interconnected quality of human lives, but it is also tinged with sadness: even our most surviving loves are altered by time and circumstance.
"Frances Ha" is spirited and achingly tender. It portrays a complicated friendship with astounding realism and renders female intimacy as important and multi-dimensional, without reducing it to a cutout of catty adolescents or latent eroticism.
2. "CHLOE AND ZOE"
Post Lena-Dunham, it takes a lot more to set apart a post-college girl than it did a few years ago.
"Chloe and Zoe" depicts the (mis)adventures of a loveably underachieving pair of Los Angeles 20-somethings. C + Z face familiar obstacles: they don’t have jobs or job etiquette. They need somewhere to live. An annoying vegetarian is coming to dinner.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s so great about "Chloe and Zoe" though I find myself trying each time shows like "Girls" or "Broad City" come up in conversation. “It’s just more…raw,” I say vaguely. (For the record, I appreciate so much of what a comedy like "Broad City" does, but there’s also something so wonderful about a series like "Chloe and Zoe" that is less explicitly satirical and driven almost solely by the chemistry between actors. "Chloe and Zoe"’s sparse anti-structure wouldn’t work with a full-length network show, budget and audience, but it exemplifies what can be so fun about the webseries format.)
The show manages to incorporate zeitgeist-y fixtures of contemporary culture seamlessly, without falling into the trap of using them as plot devices. When Chloe and Zoe cruise Craiglist, take Adderall to finish a screenplay, and make stoned plans to take the LSAT, it’s funny because it isn’t over the top. Their amphetamine-fueled passion projects and sheepish inquiries about staying for dinner at their parents' houses are pretty true to life. While the wry vignettes of "Chloe and Zoe" might be less successful distended into a half-hour show, they are perfectly suited for web shorts.
I deigned to watch "Daria" a handful of times during its initial late-'90s run, if only hoping that the “Man! I feel like a woman!” video would air on TRL afterward. By the time the show was resurrected and broadcast in its second incarnation, we had just moved from Manhattan to Nashville, Tennessee, where, in addition to the universally unpleasant social habits of middle-school age children, I suffered severe culture shock. Jewish, shrimpy, and raised by liberal, pot-smoking East-Coast intellectual/artist types, I fit right in among my peers at a New York Public School for gifted education. In a traditional Southern prep school, this was not the case. Misery loves company, but unlike the show’s main characters, I didn’t have anyone in particular to share mine with.
Commiseration brings Daria and Jane together in season one’s “The Esteemers” when the two meet in a class required to rehabilitate their poor attitudes. Bonded by this shared predicament and the accompanying desire to mock it, the two girls are quick foul-weather friends. Throughout the series, these girls band together against a dumb, surrounding suburban world of vacuous peers and oblivious adults. But Daria’s coy satire takes on an increasingly sincere dimension when identity crises, jealousy and teen romance complicates their friendship.
“I moved to this town and I knew immediately I'd be a total outcast.” Daria angrily tells Jane’s (and later her) boyfriend Tom Sloane. “And in the one moment of good luck I've had in my entire life, I met another outcast who I could really be friends with and not have to feel completely alone. And then you came along and screwed the whole thing up!” ("Dye! Dye! My Darling” (#4.13))
What comes between Daria and Jane is more than just “a boy” though. As college approaches, bookish Daria Morgendorffer and artist Jane Lane face divergent paths and negotiate the boundaries between private and common ambitions.
I know I watched the show in what many of its initial fans consider an unrecognizably butchered form; after Daria’s 4 a.m. airtime, the network turned back into Nick Jr, so the content and music was often edited. Still, however distorted, the shows impact is never lost on me. I remember the momentary relief it provided from the crippling loneliness of being a teenage girl and its strange ability to say you are not alone and nothing is wrong with you. This is not too different from what its characters found in each other, or what anyone hopes to find in a friendship.
4. "GHOST WORLD"
"Ghost World"’s leading ladies are also high school outcasts joined by foul-weather friendship. Away from mandatory assemblies and overbearing peers, Enid and Rebecca are forced to redefine their relationship.
Adapted from the comic by Daniel Clowes, Terry Zwigoff’s film is less of a single love story than it is a coming of age narrative in which multiple love stories appear as obstacles. As adulthood looms nearer, Enid struggles to depart from the realm of juvenile cynicism into that of thoughtful sincerity. Enid evolves slowly throughout the film, but only in its last moments do we glimpse the full magnitude of sacrifice and abandon required of her. Though her path to self-actualization includes the trials of both romantic and platonic love, in the end, both must be abandoned in pursuit of solitary, personal fantasy.
Like many teenagers, "Ghost World"’s characters equate intimacy with shared malaise. They mistakenly equate intelligence with disinterested criticism, habitually blaming absurd and superficial circumstances rather than holding themselves accountable. Of course, dismissing things as superficial rather than engaging, is, itself, a mode of superficiality. I always hated that they had to realize that in the movie, and still do a little bit.
5. "ME WITHOUT YOU "
At times, "Me Without You"’s Holly and Marina resemble a kind of real-life Daria and Jane, if Daria and Jane were growing up in ’70s/’80s England and felt a little more compelled to experiment with sex, drugs and rock and roll. The lifelong friendship that bonds these characters provides comfort and stability and inspires a toxic rivalry between them. In a particularly literal moment, the two friends unwittingly date the same smarmy elbow-patch clad professor (played by Kyle Maclachlan!) who fails to realize that the pretty, intellectual student and exciting, party-girl he is two timing are life-long pals.
Maturing through childhood, adolescence and adulthood, Holly and Marina’s friendship acts as the film’s protagonist, taking on varied, contradictory human characteristics. "Me Without You" is a dark and difficult movie. At its center, an uncanny portrait of codependency turns cruel and parasitic, contaminating all who surround it.
I cringe when I think of some of the best friends I once loved. I can recall looking at them a certain way, and my willingness to endure immense compromise like it was nothing. I remember wanting to be loved so badly. When I recall my childhood female friendships, it is almost embarrassing how closely they echo the trajectories of later romances. Why haven’t I learned? Of course, I was doing precisely that: learning how to share a life with someone else, learning how to face loss without being totally debilitated by it.
Though I might have picked up my late night TV habit as a lonely, angsty teen, I still love these same stories. We look to relationships and stories for deeply similar reasons. They reassure us that our own experiences are important and connect us to those of other people. They allow us to travel across great distance and time, and remind us of how important and possible it is to share, however alone we may feel.