Another Fine Bramance

[Via Twitter @Sarah_Haskins]

I Love You, Three Dimensional Well Written Character

Dear Millicent,

I am trying to find a phrase for the female bromance, and am not having much luck: sismance (sounds like a goiter), ladymance (sounds like a medieval weapon), cronemance (I kind of like this, but it makes me think Dune), girlcrush, or the brit term for falling in love at boarding school — –‘having a pash’?

I ask this because I just saw I Love You, Man, a title bromance, and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (a supreme Netflix wonder). I was smitten with ILYM’s lack of difficulty: it is plot-lite, where even the climax is not very threatening or stressful.  I smiled at Paul Rudd throughout, and savored such lines as Jon Favreau offhandedly ordering a drink for wife, “and something with sour mix for her,” and Rudd’s father staidly announcing that his best friend is one of his sons in front of the other son.   But, the movie’s thesis is that women are friendship-a-matics: they instinctively klatch up and and share and support, while men have a hard time letting their hair down.  As Paul Rudd ventures to find friends, he encounters men wanting to date him or steal his clients, or geeks that are even less cool than he is.  His girlfriend enters the movie with a complete girl talk brigade with requisite bitch and ditz as besties.  Ladies have “girl’s nights” and drink wine.  They can sleep at each other’s houses and own boutiques together.  This doesn’t seem untrue, as much as one dimensional.

When he does meet his soul friend, they have quite the pash.  And it’s got all its dimensions.  They tell each other secrets, they support each other’s dreams, they make each other grow. The movie plays easy, so they have tilted the scales to make a more compact and satisfying formulaic tale.  The ladies have to be flat characters to foil the round joy of Rudd’s character arc with his manfriend.

But, isn’t the bromance really the story of all friendships? Doesn’t the post-college adult often flounder in isolation and miss the days where friendship was less homegenous, but very much enforced? In school there is required recess, and then the caste navigation of high school, and then dormmates and so on. Then we are released to the unwild, where people are no longer grouped by age or interest, and the world is lonelier.  Gyms and video stores and bars become the great chances of interaction.  I fuss not because ILYM is an inept representation of the difficulties of finding likeminded people, but because it’s like that way for everybody.  Women might say “I love you” to their pash a little earlier in the game, but otherwise same gauntlet.  And this is my nitpick with the Bromance/Apatow genre: it showcases its men with amazing dimensions of complexity, tenderness and contradiction and that is supposed to be the trick.  The ladies are supposed to have all of this stuff figured out, and as the men grapple and learn, we are all inclined to melt and appreciate the wit and humanity presented.  And, I usually do just that; as a critic, I am a worthless sop in the audience–I enjoy all of it.

Which brings me to Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, where I lost the bet that Kris Kristofferson would wear jeans in every scene (he wears white pants, once! The rest, denim all the way).  This move explained a few things to me:

  1. Why, while growing up in Tucson, people often referred to this movie and Jodi Foster’s amazing quote “he’s even weird for Tucson, and Tucson is the capital of weird.”
  2. A parenting trend that might have influenced my parents: in the movie Alice is a single mother that talks to her precocious 12 year old like he is fully grown.  He is very astute (and could walk straight into a Wes Anderson movie), and mom makes cracks about her sex life or trouble paying the bills and then tells him to finish his dinner.  They have a loving relationship.  I wonder if divorced parents at the time, hoping to have an equally savvy and well-bonded relationship with their kids, tried to be the brassy, worldly honest type, not realizing that their own lines (and their kids) were not written in a script where the outcome is ultimately a happy one.
  3. Harvey Keitel was once a very young man.

And, we have Alice, played by Ellen Burstyn, as a successfully three dimensional lady on film.  My shock in watching the movie was how long it had been since I had seen that kind of complexity organically presented.  The movie is astounding in its motivations–every plot point has a very believable and fairly subtle reason for happening.  I have some issues with the ending–if you watch it, we must discuss–but overall, it’s a witty and complete portrait.  And, there is a gal pash, or rather, a tribute to the importance of the pash.  As Alice leaves town after her husband’s death, she and her friend have compelling goodbye scene where they both acknowledge how much they will miss each other (again, amazingly natural and heartfelt), and then later, this same friend is mentioned as Alice and Flo sunbathe in Tucson.  They have just become a united front, and Alice leans back, eyes closed to the sun and says “I forgot how good it is to talk to someone.”  The viewer feels how good these women feel in this moment.  It’s great.  I love the assumption of the movie that nobody has anything figured out, and practically every character is  their own little motor chugging through the world.

If the bromance/Apatow set , or a new think tank of entertainment, could take that kind of formula on, I’d be delighted.  I keep thinking there must be a female version of Peep Show, and all the Apatow gross-out/sentiment fests, and Juno isn’t quite it.

I love you, lady,