As we each begin to take stock of 2019 and count our blessings over the festive period, George Nash takes time to celebrate the great movie friendships that have graced our cinema screens over the past twelve months…
With the festivities sweeping us up on a wave of shameless consumer indulgence, seasonal knitwear and figuring out just what the hell Figgy pudding is, it can be easy to forget what Christmas really means.
Amidst the pulpy pop, good tidings and the endless supply of mince pies, the festive season serves to remind us of all that we have and should be grateful for.
And few things are more gratifying at this time of year than the company we keep. Friends, pals, chums, bezzies, BFFs — however you put it, the family we choose for ourselves is the gift that keeps on giving. After all, who else is going to join you in your butchered rendition of ‘Last Christmas’ when you’ve had too much mulled wine on Christmas Eve? Who else is going to convince you that wearing that jumper that says ‘I’m not Santa but you can sit on my lap’ probably isn’t suitable office party attire? And who else is going to surprise you with the most useless tat for Secret Santa that will ultimately turn out to be the most ‘you’ present of the lot?
Friendship, as it turns out, is pretty darn great. And for the last twelve months, a year of so much gloom and uncertainty, we’ve laughed, cried and marvelled at all manner of quirky companionship up on the silver screen. So, in the name of best buds, we’re celebrating the very best of 2019’s on-screen movie friendships.
(WARNING: the following contains some plot spoilers)
Molly and Amy — Booksmart
Despite irrefutable similarities (not least in the casting of Beanie Feldstein, Jonah Hill’s younger sister), to file Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut under “Superbad with girls” is to undermine everything that is so delightfully fresh about Booksmart.
A deliriously quirky shake-up of genre conventions so often overbaked, the strength of its story about two high school seniors attempting to make up for an entire four years worth of partying in a single night is in the effortless chemistry of its two leads.
Whether they’re discussing feminist icons, sharing secrets about sexual acts with toy Pandas or watching porn in the back of a cab, Molly (Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) are infectiously likeable in their pursuit of the perfect pre-graduation blow out. There’s wonderful, delicate nuance thrown in there too, as Molly’s confident demeanour fronts a deeper anxiety of a college existence without her best friend, while Amy, out for two years, struggles to find the courage to forge a relationship with a classmate.
As much as it’s a sharply scripted, raucously entertaining ride, Wilde’s film is a warm, inclusive, progressive celebration of female friendship and of not growing up too fast in a world that expects you too. Molly and Amy are trailblazers, and we salute them.
Woody and Bo Peep — Toy Story 4
The fourth instalment in Disney-Pixar’s near-faultless franchise was a wonderful, joyous, but utterly needless return for the toys of Toy Story. There was little to gain and much to lose, but the gamble to send the animated, sentient gang on another adventure was made memorable not so much by the misdemeanours of the series’ most marketable new character — Forky, the plastic spork with a serious existential dilemma — but by the evolution of one of its originals.
Bo Peep, for two films side-lined as little more than a love interest for the plucky pull-string sheriff, got a riveting resurgence in Toy Story 4, from sweet, supporting player to resourceful, ass-kicking renegade. And in her transition, it gave new dimension to her relationship with Woody as two lost souls who find each other once again. They might be talking toys, but their bond is no less touching, and no less true.
Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth — Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega. Django and Schultz. While much of Quentin Tarantino’s back catalogue contains generous helpings of (bloody) bromance, few are quite as endearing as that between fictional actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double-cum-gofer Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) in the filmmaker’s much less showy ninth feature (tenth if you’re counting Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2 as separate films, of course).
What makes Once Upon a Time in Hollywood‘s central pairing so memorable though, is just how different they are. One is a once-adored leading man now plagued by the growing paranoia he’s become a has-been, while the latter oozes cool, calm charisma as he drives around LA, picking up hippies and removing his shirt on rooftops. Yet, despite being opposite in almost every way, the two men are invariably linked (“More than a buddy, less than a wife”), both on the wrong side of change in the dazzling, sun-drenched Tinseltown of Tarantino’s 6o’s period piece. It’s a charming double-act, complete with drunken outbursts, acid-dipped cigarettes and moments of shocking violence. DiCaprio has undoubtedly the showier of the two roles but, ironically, it is Pitt who steals the show.
Zak and Tyler — The Peanut Butter Falcon
Friendship is often found in the most unlikely of places. And that couldn’t be truer of the relationship between Zak (breakout star Zack Gottsagen) and Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), the duo at the centre of Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz’s charming 2019 sleeper hit The Peanut Butter Falcon.
In the vast swampland of rural North Carolina, their paths cross under what appear to be serendipitous circumstances. But their chance meeting quickly carries an air of inevitability. Both are outcasts in their own way: Zak, a young man with Down’s syndrome, has escaped from the retirement home where Dakota Johnson’s Eleanor oversees his care, while Tyler, a fisherman adrift, is on the run from rival crab fishers who muscled in on his patch in the aftermath of his brother’s death.
The setting is apt, at once serving as both a neat metaphor for the harsh wilderness they struggle through in everyday life and the backdrop for a fantastical-flavoured, Twain-tinged yarn about freedom. It could have all been so banal, of course, but Nilson and Schwartz (who also co-wrote the screenplay) imbue the roles with such touching interchangeability that rarely are characters affixed to conventional functions. Equally reliant on one another, the pair wade through the warm waters of companionship together with a chemistry matched only by the closeness of Gottsagen and LaBeouf in real life.
Rose-Lynn and Susannah — Wild Rose
In a different film, the relationship between aspiring Glaswegian country singer and ex-convict Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley) and the wealthy Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), whose house she cleans, would be a searing comment on class frictions. As it is, Wild Rose celebrates the unlikely, and their friendship is filled with nothing but joy and goodwill.
Tom Harper’s film, from a screenplay written by Nicole Taylor, understands that often it’s the journey, and not the destination, that is most important in shaping who you are. As such, Wild Rose chooses to focus not on what it means to be a celebrated musician, but what it takes to fulfil your dreams. It’s also about the people you meet along the way, those who both help and hinder you, and Harper’s film is as much about those absent as it is about those present.
Susannah, as something of a pseudo-fairy Godmother, supports Rose-Lynn, but if only to help bring out the fierce drive that’s already bubbling away inside.
Elton John and Bernie Taupin — Rocketman
Aside from restoring the balance of music biopics in the aftermath of Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman, Dexter Fletcher’s toe-tapping Elton John-athon, reminded us that behind every great singer is a great songwriter.
Often, that can be the same person, but in the case of Elton John, that’s Bernie Taupin. As different as chalk and cheese, as close as brothers, what makes their relationship so strong is that one could not exist without the other. John has the voice but not the words; Taupin the words but not the voice. And it’s this delicate balance that lies at the core of Fletcher’s film, playing out with touching warmth during Elton’s darkest days.
As the Rocketman himself, Taron Egerton soars with flamboyant charm, while Jamie Bell supplies the quieter, emotional grounding: a dynamic that neatly encapsulates why Elton and Bernie have been able to collaborate so successfully for the best part of fifty years.
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