Films that are inclined to pull in female audiences – so-called ‘chick flicks’ – get a bad rap, but they aren’t limited to just romantic comedies, or romantic dramas or… romantic romances, as one might think. Some of the best cinema ever produced with female viewers in mind concerns the complexity, depth and everlasting love that comes with female friendship. The producers and directors who understand that the end of a female friendship is as painful as heartbreak, or the beginning of it, as exciting as falling in love, come to find success as their movies strike chords with an emotionally-aware audience. This audience – of mostly women or feminine-presenting – keep such movies close to their heart, and at every ladies’ night or girls’ trip, replay their favourites. So, call them chick flicks, but it’s chicks who are likely to watch again… and again…. and again…
Get your league of most-loved ladies together this summer for a movie night. Take advantage of these balmy evenings, and make it a projector job in the garden, for good, clean, COVID-safe fun. For inspiration, here are some of cinema’s best films that celebrate female friendship…
Set against the backdrop of busy, lit-up Dublin, Animals is a tale of fun-loving best friends Tyler (Alia Shawkat) and Laura (Holliday Grainger) and the footfalls of a 21st-century female best-friendship. Their hedonistic adventures include spending wine-soaked evenings crashing through the Dublin streets, grinding up painkillers into their cocktails and scribbling their phone number onto prospective conquests in lip liner. The wildness comes to a halt when Laura starts getting serious with Jim (Fra Fee) and her priorities shift from companionship to romance. The new relationship highlights the different brands of feminism the two live by – driving them into conflict on brand new ground. Shawkat, of HBO and Netflix’s Arrested Development, does particularly well in this recent release.
Thelma and Louise (1991)
This one is obviously a must-watch, for those who have not yet been exposed to the exhilarating adventure of Thelma and Louise. Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis star in this classic as two friends whose weekend trip turns into an adventure of self-discovery as they are endlessly challenged at every turn, but always responding with determination and resilience. The film shows up the inequities and impossibilities of the Man’s World which the characters are tasked with navigating, while never patronising or victimising them – a cinematic feat still unmastered by many filmmakers.
Whip It (2009)
17-year-old Bliss (Elliot Page) is faced with a typically teenage conundrum in Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, Whip It: how does a girl make new friends while staying loyal to old ones? Rebelling against her pushy pageant mother, shy-but-sincere Bliss escapes small-town Texas and leaves behind her lifelong best friend to join the roller-derby community, the Hurl Scouts, who always look out for each other. The protective bond brought on by the sport is compelling and refreshing – through the lens of competition, Bliss finds self-assurance, and learns to reconcile her separate friendship groups. Despite this interesting learning curve, Whip It keeps it playful, and the spangly cast of comic greats do a wonderful job.
Frances Ha (2013)
Greta Gerwig co-wrote and stars in this exceptionally perceptive examination of the seismic shift that occurs between women as life overtakes us. Gerwig really impressed critics with this black-and-white indie, and it has fast become a classic. In Frances Ha, Gerwig’s character happily plans a lifetime of connection with her closest friend Sophie, with whom she has a bond that seems extra-familial – something stronger than sisterhood. As Sophie’s life evolves, so does she, and Frances (Gerwig) feels pushed aside. Painful and beautiful, this film is indeed about heartbreak – just not the romantic kind.
Stage Door (1937)
Stage Door is a wonderful expression of theatricality – and you can tell from just reading the premise. A group of would-be actresses gathered in a theatrical boarding house is the perfect formula for show-stopping drama and slick dialogue – and it delivers. Katharine Hepburn plays a wealthy, ambitious ingenue, while her new roommate is played by Ginger Rogers. Their first scene together is unmissable – turn on subtitles to ensure you catch each line of this iconic exchange of fast, sharp put-downs and withering responses. But Stage Door isn’t just a fun show of cattiness. Despite the competitive dynamic, the two characters are allowed to develop a meaningful and mutually protective friendship, and it makes for a funny watch with a lot of heart to it.
Bend It Like Beckham (2003)
Despite the short-lived romantic rivalry it features, Bend It Like Beckham wins a place on this list for the pulling apart of youthful female bonds, and particularly those in a sporting context. This early-noughties classic features a friendship that shares a love of the beautiful game, and an exploration of the concept of sportsmanship between women. Directed and co-written by Gurinder Chadha, Bend It is cheekily funny, true-to-life, sweetly romantic and – by now – ultra-nostalgic.