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Friday, February 24, 2012

Motifs in Cinema: A Closer Look at Friendships in 2011 Film

Perhaps because it’s one of the youngest artistic forms, cinema is often assessed in much different manner that literature, or the visual arts. We discuss it in terms of genre, not in terms of thematic offering. Comparing, for example, Corpse Bride and Up because they’re both animated leads to some dubious discussion especially when – like any art form – thematic elements examined in cinema and the way different filmmakers address them make for some stimulating discussion. "Motifs in Cinema" is a discourse, across nine film blogs, assessing the way in which various thematic elements have been used in the 2011 cinematic landscape. How does a common theme vary in use from a comedy to a drama? Are filmmakers working from a similar canvas when they assess the issue of the artist or the family dynamic? Like everything else, a film begins with an idea - "Motifs in Cinema" assesses how the use of a single idea changes when utilized by varying artists.--Andrew, Encore Entertainment

In one of the best movies from last year's awards season The Social Network, we saw a friendship go up in flames over a couple of dollars and a few clever math equations. But this season we've seen unconditional friendships make a much needed comeback on the big screen. Below are just a few of the movies that gave friendships a good name.


In Pariah, we see a longtime friendship between Alike (Adepero Oduye) and Laura (Pernell Walker) become strained after Alike starts spending more time and gets romantically involved with Bina (Aasha Davis), whose underground swagger and delightful sincerity attracts Alike. Feeling hurt, and as if she's been pushed to the back burner, Laura distances herself from Alike, who tries to reach out to Laura but is rebuffed. It's heartbreaking to watch this scene occur, because before then we're shown how Laura is really the only person in Alike's life with whom Alike can be her true self, someone to whom she doesn't have to pretend or hide herself from.

But it isn't until Alike is shunned by her budding love interest that she is left with no one to turn to. Her life at home has reached the epitome of discomfort, and she has nowhere to go. Once again she finds herself back on her old friend Laura's doorstep, distraught and bewildered, and this time--with just one look at her Alike's apparent dismay--without saying a word she welcomes her back into her apartment. And, just like that, they fall right back into their natural accord, absolute and bound by similar sorrow and uncanny respect for one another. It is in part due to this reconciliation and the strength of Laura's unflinching love for her as a friend--that Alike has the confidence she needs to take control of her life. As she poetically proclaims in the movie, "I'm not running; I'm choosing."


In 50/50, friendship looks a little different. For one thing, it's between two guys--Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Kyle (Seth Rogen). Though we've seen a variety of bromantic comedies grace the big screen, many of them relied on silly antics and sarcastic witticisms for a laugh. 50/50 takes that brash comical edge we know and appreciate and plays it against the backdrop of an unexpectedly heartfelt cancer drama.

Rogen, who we all know to be a goofball, strikes an emotional chord in this movie so effortlessly, it nearly capsizes you. Kyle's eternal love for his dear friend Adam in his time of need is so uncontrived and un-put on, it nearly takes your breath away. It's not mushy, and it's not overcompensating. You get the feeling that Adam and Kyle's relationship was totally unaffected by Adam's diagnosis. It was neither strengthened nor strained. It was just, present. And, in times like these, that's the most powerful friendship you can have.


The unlikely friendship between two very different women remains a highlight in the female-driven comedy, Bridesmaids. Just when our favorite self-deprecating friend in our head Annie (Kristin Wiig) hits rock bottom, she is greeted by Megan (Melissa McCarthy), her "friend" of just a few weeks, who snatches her away from her pity party with dramatic flair.

After Annie spends most the movie wallowing in her own misfortune, it only takes one military-style pep talk from her best friend's bridesmaid to help her realize not only the error of ways but what she's been missing out on this whole time. In one very candid conversation, we find out the origin of Megan's uncomfortably amazing confidence, and insight on her life as an overweight teen. She wasn't always this great, sexy vixen, but she's a fighter. That's just what Annie needed at just that time--a take no prisoners drill sergeant to snap her out of it. Everyone could use a friend like that, someone who drops the frilly act and keeps it really real with you.


Speaking of two people who really had no reason to become friends, the movie Young Adult features an unusual friendship consisting of high school peers Mavis and Matt (Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt). Though they never quite become friends in the traditional sense, the audience believes that these two share an inexplicable bond. They can depend on each other to not only be there when the other one (usually Mavis) makes a fool of him or herself, but also to exchange biting insults to one another as needed. And they are usually always needed.

See, this is how these two operate. Tough love is their cat call. It's the language they're fluent in, and it becomes their mating call. The audience cringes when these two first meet for a love/hate rekindling, but after the first hour we almost feel awkward when their relationship takes an unexpected detour. But we cannot turn away from them. They friendship, like many aspects of the movie, represent everything we're made to feel uncomfortable about in movies and in life. That's what makes it so captivating.


Daniel said...

Great read, really enjoyed it, love the examples you used.

Andrew K. said...

Ha ha ha. Word, for happy friendships making a comeback. I really wish that we could have had a bit more of Maya Rudolph and Kristin Wiig enjoying each others' cadence in BRIDESMAIDS (one of the film's finest assets). All of these films hit their strides (well, I haven't seen Pariah) when the friends play off each other.

(And, you just gave me an idea for a post, too. See friendship<.)

Paolo said...

Annie's the kind of character that wants to be rescued. The Chris O'Down tries to force her hand into it in the guise of making her feel better, while Melissa McCarthy's prefers tough yet surprising love. I also really hope that the literal BFF trend, as you've pointed out, lasts, even if it's equally entertaining to see friends go against each other.

Unknown said...

Lovely read, I really want to see "Pariah" ASAP. I like that you highlighted the bromance without being snarky about it, even if male-driven movies love having guys seem as douchebags, I think your example is a reminder that guys can be sensitive too within the confines of their comfort zones.

Nick Prigge said...

Oh, I love how you summarized Adam & Kyle's bromance. "It was neither strengthened nor strained. It was just, present." That actually kind of describes the lifelong bromance I've had with my own best friend. Not that we've had to deal with anything like 50/50, but still.

And I really need to see Pariah.

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