20 Movies That Understand The Complexities of Female Friendship
We all know those films that instantly remind you of your best friends, past and present, they’re called buddy films. Our best friends are there to support us, console us, make us laugh, defend us, and more, but they can also be the source of our pain and heartbreak. Friendships between females, both young and old, possess a certain intensity that isn’t matched in other dynamics.
This list is a collection of twenty films that portray female friendship and relationships on screen. Every film varies in terms of genre, year of release, narrative, and the age group of the characters. Ranging from childhood, high school, and adulthood, these female friendship films nail the complexity of being a woman in a significant friendship and the lessons learned through life spent with the best companionship.
1. Frances Ha (2012, Noah Baumbach)
Written by Noah Baumbach and the star of the film, Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha tells the story of two friends who met in college and instantly became the best duo. They live together, love each other, and depend on each other’s company like life partners often do. But when significant others get in the way and the reality of growing up conflicts with their friendship, they begin to breakdown in their own ways.
But in the break, they discover themselves and most importantly they grow together while being separate to realize that they are meant to be best friends forever, and life will never be the same without each other. Paired with an exciting soundtrack, the film feels romantic at times, but ultimately remains a buddy film that is funny, heartwarming, realistic, intelligent, and just really, really good.
The soundtrack, the cinematography, the dialogue, it’s perfect. Frances Ha captures an aesthetic and quality in media that can often be lost in the mess of television, politics, etc. The twenty-something, struggling post-grad in a large city aesthetic has been seen over and over again with shows like Girls, Broad City, and more, but Frances Ha doesn’t deliver a manufactured relationship to that aesthetic. It feels natural, and it feels relevant, and does it all so elegantly.
One of the most relevant, beautiful lines of dialogue I have ever heard from a film comes from this movie and it perfectly explains being in your 20s and trying to figure your life out, but it’s not that bad when you have your “person.”
“It’s that thing when you’re with someone, and you love them and they know it, and they love you and you know it… but it’s a party… and you’re both talking to other people, and you’re laughing and shining… and you look across the room and catch each other’s eyes… but – but not because you’re possessive, or it’s precisely sexual… but because… that is your person in this life.
And it’s funny and sad, but only because this life will end, and it’s this secret world that exists right there in public, unnoticed, that no one else knows about. It’s sort of like how they say that other dimensions exist all around us, but we don’t have the ability to perceive them. That’s – That’s what I want out of a relationship. Or just life, I guess.”
2. Heavenly Creatures (1994, Peter Jackson)
The tale of two teenage friends and their imaginative lives blurred with the real world they live in, creates the cinematic experience that is one to discuss over drinks, or hard drugs. Pauline and Juliet bond over shared experiences of being sick children and parents who misunderstand them, but when their friendship reaches its all time high and the obsession becomes too real, the movie takes a fantastic, dark turn.
Weaving in and out of reality and fantasy, the film navigates through the early attachments that form in a new friendship, just intensified in this example. It’s important to follow the exaggerated example Peter Jackson lays out of obsession and latching onto a new friend, because as extreme as it is, it encapsulates the dynamic that is formed out of wanting to be around someone all the time.
Codependent, collaborative, and complex, the friendship between Pauline and Juliet brings light to the special bond that forms between friends, but the dangerous nature of forming a toxic friendship quickly.
It is the onscreen debut for both Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey and their performances are brilliant. The blur of reality and fantasy are fluid and rough all at once, the dialogue is witty and ridiculous, and the stylistic choice director Peter Jackson makes stabilizes this film into its position as a campy, cult film.
Another fun fact about this film is that it is based strongly off of the true story of Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme who acted out their disillusioned plans to murder anyone who stood in the way of their happiness and love for one another. Highlighting obsessive behaviors, loneliness, codependency, and the extremes of friendships, Heavenly Creatures is definitely worth watching and using for self-reflection.
3. Girl, Interrupted (1999, James Mangold)
This film is very special and dynamic in its approach to depicting female friendship on screen. One of the unique structures in setting and narrative, Girl, Interrupted takes place inside the walls of a mental institution. It delivers strong performances from each of the actresses in the main roles, which help mold the various relationships that occur between women.
Although the women are patients in a mental hospital, the relationships between each of them parallel and mirror any high school. There is an intense sense of trust or lack of, manipulation of character and feelings, fear, insecurity, and other examples of feelings women experience in relation to one another.
The characters include Susanna, the protagonist and navigator through the narrative, Lisa who is a diagnosed sociopath and self-proclaimed leader of the girls, Daisy who suffers from an eating disorder and is fearful of the world outside, Georgina who is Susanna’s roommate and a pathological liar, Polly who appears to take on the mentality of a child and suffers from severe burn scars after self-igniting, Janet who suffers from anorexia and is a former ballerina, and Cynthia who is mentally challenged and identified as a lesbian. Drastically different in most aspects, the women still share something that can only be held between them; they are all in the hospital and they are all “sick.”
The friendships develop quite quickly and create a codependence between the women, especially between Susanna and Lisa. In a moment when Lisa is removed from the hospital and doesn’t return, Susanna appears to be depressed, suggesting that she does need Lisa around regardless of her behavior and lack of empathy.
After multiple incidents of Lisa’s manipulation and cruelty towards the other women, Susanna proceeds to stand up to her, which leads to her ultimately cracking her tough, guarded persona. The dynamics between each of the characters can appear bizarre and oddly intense, but it must be understood that they are not well and their perception of love and affection may be skewed.
However, there are very raw and passionate examples of friendship throughout the film’s duration, and the film ends on a solid note to capturing and understanding the relations between women.
4. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (2008, Cristian Mungiu)
Female friendship on screen or in real life can encounter challenges within the structure of the friendship that friendships between men may never see. In this film, two friends run into a complex situation that puts their friendship to the test. Otilia and Gabriela are friends who attend university together in 1987 Communist Romania. When Gabriela reveals that she is pregnant and wants to have an abortion, the two devise a plan to arrange an illegal abortion.
When they hire a man by the name of Mr. Bebe to perform the procedure, they work together to set up the hotel and get the money necessary. Otilia reaches out to her boyfriend to borrow money for Gabriela and returns to find out the hotel was not properly booked. Finding another option, the two prepare for Mr. Bebe. Irate that the original plan is not active, Mr. Bebe threatens to leave which leads to the two women engaging in compromising acts with him.
Tests to the friendship keep arising through revelations of information that Gabriela withheld from Otilia, negligence of other relationships in their lives, the tension that comes from the risk of the action, and the intensity of how much they rely on each other. Lies, anger, fear, etc. are all factors that could end any relationship, whether that is a friend or not, but it is in the trials endured that Otilia and Gabriela develop a stronger bond that seemingly will not be broken as the film concludes.
5. Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997, David Mirkin)
One of the most organic and pure examples of female friendship on screen can be seen in this film. The story of two best friends who were considered misfits in high school and preserve their friendship through adulthood as they live together in California. The two support each other in multiple aspects from emotional, financial, etc. and are dependent on their companionship. Romy, is the more levelheaded of the two with a job and ambition to do more and be better.
Michele, on the other hand, is unemployed, aspiring to be a fashion designer, extremely naïve, loyal, and free-spirited, but together they fit. One day when Romy hears about her high school’s ten year reunion, she rushes home to convince Michele that they should attend and reinvent themselves to prove to their tormenters that they made it. Reluctant at first, Michele agrees and the two fabricate the last decade of their lives.
The desire to prove themselves and find some significance in their lives through this fake persona ends up compromising the one thing that meant everything to both of them: friendship. A major fight between them creates an uncomfortable tension and anxiety within the scenes where they exist without one another and try to carry on not acknowledging that they are both visibly hurt by the disagreement.
Once they resolve the problem and agree that everything they have together was enough, they are able to enjoy the reunion and truly cherish the brilliance and beauty of their friendship.
6. Thelma and Louise (1991, Ridley Scott)
Notably one of the most influential films in cinema and arguably one of the best road films, it also holds a pretty high spot on the list of great female friendship films. As one of the best representations of strong women and the concept of the dynamic duo, Thelma and Louise illustrate the story of two friends who set out to find freedom and solace from their mundane lives.
Louise takes on the role as the caretaker and the voice of reason, where Thelma is a little more naïve and susceptible to being treated poorly. After they set out on their journey, the two run into a dangerous and traumatizing situation that propels the film into a fast pace excursion and refuge.
The friendship that Thelma and Louise have established works off of two key ingredients: loyalty and love. Regardless of what one might do to neglect their trip or their safety, no matter how angry they may become at one another, or the future they have created for themselves after multiple decisions, they remain by each other’s sides and fight for love, rather than turn their back on it.
Their friendship is complex and tense and a reflection of their relationships with the various male characters in the film that fit a cookie-cutter mold. In a world where men are men and women are women but in the rule-abiding, male accompaniment, the two find their inner strength and beauty through the reflection in each other’s eyes. In a “if we go down, we go down together” fashion, Thelma and Louise encapsulate the beautiful, unstated contract forever friends write together.