After decades of inevitable nuptials and the female leads who are too beautiful and romantical to screw up their climactic hitching, romantic comedies are beginning to relegate their brides to the background while the best friend in all of his or her drunken, self-destructive splendor, takes center-stage and falls headfirst into the wedding cake, pees somewhere inappropriate, or generally makes all those betrothed people feel some mix of pity, envy, and tenderness.
The Wall Street Journal's Rachel Dodes writes about the growing romantic comedy trend of turning the so-called "best friend" into a movie's main character and relegating the character who's doing all that matrimonial jazz to the background of concerned supporting cast members. Dodes focuses on movies like Bridesmaids and the new movie about a aimless woman (Greta Gerwig) and the stoned best friend who tries to cheer her up, Lola Versus, as well as TV shows like, you guessed it, Girls. According to Middlebury College film professor Leger Grindon, this trend of increasingly prominent "best friends" reflects the fact that many women are delaying marriage until later in life, and therefore privileging female friendship over "hetersexual romance."
As a result of these changing cultural mores, audiences are becoming more eager to accept Kristen Wiig's cupcake-for-one-making Annie or Zoe Lister-Jones' drug-addled Alice in more prominent roles. Not hamstrung by the urge to marry or sniff out a suitably attractive and intelligent architect/attorney/wedding magazine columnist (I'm looking at your charming smile, James Marsden) with whom to make off-screen babies, these friend characters can do whatever the hell they want. Like, in the case of Alice of Lola Versus, gobble Oxycontin or spray herself with aerosol tan and marijuana.
Despite, however, Dodes' effort to illustrate the ascendence of the "best friend," she can only point to a handful of imperfect examples. Alice may in fact steal the show from Lola, but she's still a supporting character, and Annie, main character though she certainly is, gets paired off by the end of Bridesmaids, as if the audience couldn't figure out that she'd matured over the course of the movie unless she went out with a shmoopy highway patrolman. Besides — the most interesting and honest best friend-dynamic is still that which exists between Rupert Everett and Julia Roberts in My Best Friend's Wedding, a movie that both resists the inevitable married conclusion and the urge to fetishize its supporting character's quirkiness.
It would be interesting to see what Celia, for example, does without Rosalind calling the shots, how Joan Cusack cracks wise when Melanie Griffith isn't gasping, or what schemes Iago would weave if Othello weren't...oh. Even as the romantic comedy "best friend" evolves, the character-type is still restrained by the conventions of the rom-com genre, conventions that, in being adhered to or broken in the right places, make romantic comedies, like any other genre films, worth watching.