Today we are talking about Buddy Movies, my three favorite. There are some really obvious, really famous examples of this particular sub-genre, but I find there aren’t that many that I’ve loved, and most of those that I have I actually don’t remember that well. But as usual, after thinking for a bit, a few came to mind.
(Incidentally, this is #34 in a series of 47 posts about movies, with topics selected by my friend, each given to me after the previous one is written. For more information, check out #1 here.)
First of all, what is a “Buddy Movie”? I don’t know if there’s an official description, but this is my take on it: it’s a film where there are two protagonists who are thrust into a situation together, often meeting each other for the first time. They have contrasting personalities and thus come into conflict, but ultimately have compatible goals, and must figure out how to work together to achieve those goals. Often this is a humorous process. Frequently, the characters are on the road together, or meeting an array of supporting characters, but definitely they are the two primary characters of the story. If it’s really about a larger group—even three people—then I don’t really think of that as a “Buddy Movie” anymore, although I know some disagree. The two characters are usually of the same gender (and usually male) and there can’t be any hint of romance between them. If there’s romance, it’s not a “Buddy Movie”. (Back when I was single, if I was interested in some girl and she wrote me a note and signed it, “Your Buddy”, well, that would not be someone I’d be very hopeful about getting together with.)
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016 – directed by Taika Waititi)
Is Hunt for the Wilderpeople a Buddy Movie? There are two protagonists, they have conflicting personalities but ultimately compatible goals, they must learn to work together to achieve those goals, and they take a journey together in which they meet a variety of quirky supporting characters. Sounds like a Buddy Movie to me. Of course, to reduce it to that is to do the movie a disservice. It’s also a “Coming of Age” film, a culturally-specific comedy-drama-adventure, and in a manner of speaking, a father-son film. The story is about delinquent teen Ricky Baker who gets taken in by a pleasant lady, Bella, and her gruff husband Hector. Circumstances send Ricky and Hec into the New Zealand bush together, where they are on the run from Child Services, the police, and local hunters, all the while becoming local legends. Together, Ricky and Hec must learn to help each other survive, all the while discovering the importance of their relationship.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one of my favorite movies from recent memory, so that makes it one of my favorite buddy films as well. But just in case we decide it doesn’t really count, I’ve selected an alternate, toward the end.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987 – directed by John Hughes)
I just wrote about this film when talking about luggage in the movies, but Planes, Trains and Automobiles is about two men who find themselves navigating a series of misadventures to get from New York to Chicago over a snowy Thanksgiving weekend. In contrast to many films that fit this category, this movie is a straight-up comedy, not an action comedy. Steve Martin and especially John Candy turn in good performances and give the comedy the heart that it needs. It’s not what you’d call “high brow” film making, but it’s extremely entertaining.
The Defiant Ones (1958 – directed by Stanley Kramer)
And this movie is not a comedy at all, but a straight up drama about two prisoners – played by the black Sidney Poitier and the white Tony Curtis – who are handcuffed together as they try to escape. But it’s a powerful drama that fits all the classic “Buddy Movie” beats – two guys who don’t like each other are forced to work together and develop respect for each other in the process. It’s compelling that at the end, the two men don’t escape, and that this is ultimately because of their unwillingness to leave each other behind. The image of Sidney Poitier cradling the wounded Tony Curtis and singing defiantly as they are caught is one of cinema’s enduring images.
Midnight Run (1988 – directed by Martin Brest)
And just in case any of these movies are just flat-out rejected because they don’t really fit the mold, here is my alternate: Midnight Run, a genuine action comedy buddy-film in the traditional sense. Robert De Niro plays a bounty hunter hired to bring fugitive mob accountant played by Charles Grodin across the country. The situation goes awry of course, and De Niro finds he must protect Grodin’s character from all sorts of people who want him for their own purposes. Truth be told, I have not seen this movie since 1988, so I don’t remember the details well, but the impression then and now is that it is funny, exciting and ultimately touching story about how these two very different character connect and ultimately find common ground. I think there was a lot of swearing, though.
Runners-Up: I was going to include The Other Guys (2010 – directed by Adam McKay) on this list but I forgot. It’s one of the genuinely funnier and surprising movies I’ve seen in a while, though crude as well. Some people call Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which is obviously a great movie, a “Buddy Movie” but I reject that since the characters are actually old friends.
Considered and Rejected: Lethal Weapon and its sequels might be the prototypical buddy cop film. The first one was fine but not a favorite, I truly despised the second. Others include Fled (sort of an updated Defiant Ones), I Spy, Dragnet, Men in Black, 48 Hours, Showtime, Rush Hour, Shanghai Noon, Die Hard with a Vengeance, and White Men Can’t Jump. Maybe you could argue that Toy Story or Finding Nemo have elements of this.
Full Disclosure: I have never seen Bad Bays (at least, I think I haven’t), Tango and Cash, all of The Hard Way or Starsky and Hutch.