From Wayne’s World to The Big Lebowski to Tombstone to Swingers, Michael Kasdan goes to the movies to explore male friendships
Knowing what we need from our male friendships. . . . It’s hard.
We’re talking about male friendship: What does it look like, and what should it look like? What makes it unique from male-female or female friendships, if it is so unique?
Today, we’re exploring this topic through the lens of the most well known, endearing, and hilarious wingmen, sidekicks and partners in crime ever to grace the silver screen and television, drawing from classics like Wayne’s World, The Office, The Big Lebowski, Swingers, Top Gun, and more.
The topic of male friendship is trending. Recent articles in Slate, the Atlantic, and The New York Times, to name a few, have explored male friendship and have come to varying conclusions. One point of view is that male friendships are too emotionally shallow, and that men crave and need more. Another is that male friendships give men just what they need, because they have a depth of a different sort.
It’s true that the traditional model of male friendship usually doesn’t follow the “BFF” bare- your-naked-soul-to-your-best-friend model. Indeed, a man-to-man friendship that is too open or too intense and too chock full of mutual admiration is likely to quickly be labeled a “Bromance.” (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) To wit, pieces like The 22 Best Bromances in Movies and TV, a multi-media celebration of “a deep, platonic love between two or male characters.” (Spoiler: The winning “couple” is Joey and Chandler from Friends, who narrowly beat out Turk and J.D. from Scrubs and Kirk and Spock’s inter-species bromance from Star Trek).
But make no mistake about it, men need friends. Being human and all, we are social creatures.
What is it that we look for in a friendship? What qualities do we value? How do we interact with each other?
What better way to examine these questions then to look to Hollywood?!
As they say, art imitates life. Our iconic movies and television shows reflect well-worn societal models of male friendships and of what these friendships should or do look like. And they model the well-known tropes of male friendships and relationships: wingmen, sidekicks, and partners in crime.
Now certainly there are differences between art and life. On-screen life doesn’t have the messy complexities and uncertainties of real life. In the movies and on television, everything is simpler. In film, there is the lead character, and then there are supporting characters around him. By contrast, in life, we each play the main part and the supporting part in each other’s stories – it’s a more three-dimensional relationship. In addition, movies and TV shows are often one-dimensional according to the genre. In comedies, the men and their buddies interact in goofy ways. In romantic comedies, the wingman trope emerges. In action and adventure flicks, you get your trusty sidekicks. Again, life (one hopes) blends many of these dimensions into a more complex stew, with more complex relationships than those often portrayed on screen.
But the relationships between the on-screen characters that we empathize with, that we laugh at together; they are a window into our own friendships.
So let’s take a playful romp down movie memory lane. Here are Hollywood’s
Top Eight Sidekicks, Wingmen, and Partners in Crime, presented in no particular order whatsoever (and yes – we randomly chose eight):
1. Garth Algar (Wayne’s World)
Garth is the ultimate sidekick. Sharing Wayne’s sense of humor, uniqueness, and wild imagination. He’s ready for any adventure, and no conversation or topic is off limits. While he is socially awkward and shy, he also knows when to just go for it.
On the topic of modern male friendship, Slate wrote that: “[S]urveys show that men desire closeness and intimacy from their male friends just as women do . . . [but they] don’t have it, [because] around the age of 15 or 16 . . . friend-like traits such as emotional openness, vulnerability, supportiveness, and caring become risky for boys to show; these qualities get suppressed in favor of self-sufficiency, stoicism, and competitive fire.”
For all his goofiness, Garth is a keeper, because he is emotionally open, vulnerable, and demonstrates undying support for Wayne. (Schwing!!)
2. Donnie (The Big Lebowski) and
3. Walter Subchak (The Big Lebowski)
The Big Lebowski is brilliant for its many compellingly hilarious characters. It brought us “The Dude.” It brought us “Jesus,” the disturbing yet titillating bowler expertly played by John Turturro. But the best characters in the film were Donnie and Walter, each of whom represent different paradigms for best buddies.
Donnie is the buddy of yours who’s always there, in the background. Oft criticized. Always the whipping boy. But he doesn’t realize it – or he doesn’t care – due to his sweet clueless nature and fierce loyalty to the friendship.
The second of the Big Lebowski entrants is Walter Subchak. Walter is loud and aggressive. A man who always has a plan. (But usually not a very good one.) A man of action. And a man of words. (Mostly curse words.) He has a teensy little bit of an anger management issue. And one or two screws loose. But Walter is always there by the Dude’s side. For better or for worse.
On male friendship, The New York Times recently wrote that “A male friend can’t ask you for anything at the end of the night. He can speak wise or dumb. He can agree or disagree. He can go that way or this way. It doesn’t matter. His job is to be who he is and witness who you are. When you consider old male friends . . . you don’t look for the joins and the similarities. You don’t examine them for correspondences. You just see two guys. And so do they. It might amount to a really great friendship, this coexisting sense of them having things in common but no obligations.”
Both Donnie and Walter fit the bill for the Dude in this exact way.
4. Goose (Top Gun)
Goose is the quintessential wingman. (Pun intended. Sorry to say.) He is by Maverick’s side in the cockpit, on the volleyball court, in the locker room, and at the bar. If Mav needs a piano accompaniment or back-up singer to get the girl, The Goose Man is there.
When Maverick breaks the rules, Goose is there with him, sharing the wrap. And when Mav feels the need. (The need for speed.) So to does Goose. They’re in it – al of it – together.
5. Dwight Schrute (The Office)
A best friend doesn’t have to be “smart.” He doesn’t necessarily have to have the best “social skills.” Sometimes, he’s a bit idiosyncratic. Hey, we’re all socially awkward and particular in our own different ways.
It is this way with Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute. Dwight has the utmost respect for Michael, and he is a willing participant in his ridiculous schemes. And he is almost always extremely loyal. This despite the fact that Michael can be dismissive or sometimes appear to be embarrassed of him. So…it’s a complex relationship.
But for all its complexity and for all their differences, the one thing that’s apparent, is that they have a tenderness, a soft spot for each other. It’s a relationship with heart. (That’s what she said.)
6. Doc Holliday (Tombstone)
Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday is one of the best portrayal of a laid-back-cool wingman in film. Despite being somewhat of a degenerate gambler, he is a stand-up man. A man of honor and a brave protector. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a skilled gunslinger, and he is as loyal as they come. Even when he’s not at his best, and even when he has to put his own skin on the line, he has Wyatt Earp’s back.
Because when trouble is looking for you, he’s your Huckleberry.
7. Alfred (Batman)
Alfred represents all the finest in a friend.
He is the one man that is and has consistently been there for Bruce Wayne. Their lives are tied together. Alfred serves as Bruce’s sounding board, as his mentor, and as his confidante. He truly loves Bruce, and what he wants most deeply is for Bruce to be happy. We should all be so lucky.
8. Trent Walker (Swingers)
Vince Vaughn’s Trent from Swingers spends almost the entire movie pushing his friend Mikey to be more of a ladies man. Loud, obnoxious, and simply oozing with charisma and bad advice, Trent (and Mikey’s other buddies) passes the time talking about how to pick up women, quoting lines from movies, and, of course, playing sports-centric video games and touting the other-wordly greatness of video-game Jeremy Roenick.
The Atlantic wrote of male friendships that “When men do get together, it is still often to watch sports, or, if their muscles haven’t atrophied, to engage in them. But how often do they get past discussing Brady vs. Manning or the best drives of their day?” Maybe not so often. But sometimes that’s OK.
And Trent. Buddy. They’re talking about you.
Finally, we leave you with one last bonus clip, from Swingers. Because you are so money. And you don’t even know it…
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/wwarby
Source : https://goodmenproject.com/arts/mkdn-on-male-friendships-the-top-eight-wingmen-sidekicks-and-partners-in-crime-in-movies-and-television/