Marriage vs. Friendship in Recent Comedies
Includes spoilers for I Love You, Man, Something Borrowed, The Hangover and Bridesmaids.
Marriage and weddings are themes which creep up constantly in film, from Hollywood blockbusters to indie flicks shown once or twice at small local cinemas. The past two or three years, however, have seen American comedy films pay a lot of attention to these subjects, particularly when it comes to the relationship between friendship and marriage. We look in detail at two of these recent films (I Love You, Man and Something Borrowed) and have a quick review of two others (The Hangover and Bridesmaids), examining the ways in which they make this theme their own.
I Love You, Man
Starring Paul Rudd, Jason Segal and Rashida Jones, I Love You, Man is the ultimate friendship vs. marriage movie. It tells the story of Peter and Zooey, who, upon getting engaged, begin to realise that while she has a whole group of friends she can’t wait to share this life-changing news with, Peter really doesn’t have any friends at all. Initially, Peter isn’t concerned that his lack of male comrades will affect the success of his marriage, but as he sees the bond Zooey has, particularly with her two closest friends, and watches her turn to them for advice, he begins to wonder if finding himself a BFF isn’t the worst idea in the world. Embarking on a series of hilarious man-dates, from friends of his parents to guys his gay brother has met at the gym, Peter eventually meets Sydney, a laid back, single investor, who, despite their differences, he instantly clicks with. Their bromance, however, begins to spiral out of control, with the sheer amount of time he spends with Sydney completely interfering with his relationship with Zooey. He cancels plans with her, or makes her tag along on his nights out with Sydney, to the point that Zooey can’t take it any more and she forces him to make a decision – it’s either Sydney, or her.
Without watching the film, this ultimatum does sound slightly hypocritical given the fact that it is Zooey herself who encourages him to go out and find himself a companion to confide in other than her. But within the context of the story, it isn’t hard to see where Zooey’s paranoia comes from. With fantastic performances from Paul Rudd and Jason Segal as the cautious but incredibly likeable Peter and the confident but somewhat reckless Sydney, the film subverts the normal story of boy and girl meet and abandon their friends, instead showing what happens when such a close friendship forms outside of an already established romantic relationship. Seeing how miserable Peter is without his best man, Zooey eventually contacts Sydney on the day of the wedding and (unbeknownst to Peter) invites him along, realising how much she would hate to get married without her best friends by her side. The film is a light-hearted and very funny exploration of the relationship between friendship and marriage, highlighting the importance of having one to balance out the other.
With the tagline ‘It’s a thin line between love and friendship’, it’s not hard to establish the main theme of this 2011 flick starring Ginnifer Goodwin and Kate Hudson. Rachel and Darcy are best friends, a friendship formed as children which has stayed with them for thirty years. Darcy is vivacious but self-centred, while Rachel is more mild-mannered and considerate, and it’s the age-old tale of nice guys finishing last. Darcy is engaged to all round nice (if slightly weak) guy Dex, who Rachel met and fell for at university, but lost to Darcy when she failed to tell him how she really felt. When she discovers, in a drunken taxi journey home with Dex following her 30th birthday party, that he felt the same way, the pair spend the night together, and the film then tells the story of Rachel and Dex negotiating their feelings and figuring out whether or not the way they feel about each other is strong enough to merit hurting Darcy. Much like I Love You, Man, Something Borrowed highlights the importance of balance in life, with Rachel realising how much she has sacrificed over the years by allowing Darcy to always take the front seat in their friendship.
The film has a much more realistic narrative than a lot of other recent rom-coms. The road to happiness is not paved with gold, and Rachel and Dex don’t fall into one another’s arms with Darcy’s blessing. The climactic scene in the rain where Rachel professes her love to Dex and in which, in the style of so many other films of this genre, he would tell her he was leaving Darcy and they would run off into the sunset together doesn’t end that way. He walks away, too weak and afraid to break Darcy’s (and his parents’) heart, leaving Rachel devastated. And, when they eventually do get together, it changes her friendship with Darcy forever; there is no tearful reunion in the closing scene. There is a moment of civility hinting to the idea that maybe somewhere down the track they will be able to be friends once again, but the bond they shared, however unbalanced, for thirty years is broken. While the end to this film is somewhat bleak in comparison to I Love You, Man, the message is essentially the same – negotiating friendship and marriage can be difficult. But the true, most rewarding friendships are the ones which survive these tumultuous times – a lesson learned only too well by Rachel and Darcy.
The Hangover is an outrageous comedy starring Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helmes and Justin Bartha, which follows four men on a stag do gone awry in Las Vegas. When Phil, Stu and Alan, the groomsmen, manage to lose Doug 24 hours before his wedding, chaos ensues as they attempt to retrace their steps and find their friend before his big day. Once again, the wedding/marriage part of the story takes a back seat and the focus here is on friendship – the three men do everything that they can to find Doug, while learning a bit more about each other along the way – Alan, as Doug’s soon to be brother-in-law, is new to the group, and doesn’t exactly fit in with the gang to begin with. Working together to get Doug back to his fiancée in one piece, however, changes the relationship between the three men, resulting in a hilarious and seriously popular film (emphasised by the release of a sequel in 2011).
In a sort of reverse of The Hangover, Bridesmaids follows down-on-her-luck Annie who is single, unemployed and losing faith in ever succeeding at anything in life, as she prepares to be maid of honour for her best friend Lillian. Annie’s fears about her own life, however, begin to overpower her ability to be there for Lillian, and her insecurity over Lillian’s friendship with Helen (the wife of one of Lillian’s fiance’s friends) threatens their relationship to the point that they are no longer speaking. While that overview makes it sound slightly depressing, it really is a hilarious film, and despite their arguments, and Annie’s lack of confidence in herself, Lillian finds herself unable to go through with the wedding without her lifelong friend by her side. Much like Something Borrowed, the film explores the test friendship can often face when a wedding is announced, but, in this case, friendship wins out, and Annie is able to be there to support Lillian on her big day.
So, there we have it – four comedy films from the past two years which all examine, in great detail, the relationship between marriage (or more specifically, weddings) and friendship. Why this theme has become so popular over the past two years, we will never know, but it has certainly provided us with four, at the very least, thoroughly enjoyable movies.
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