Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Bromantic Intentions: 8 Beautiful Bromances to Joyify Your Feels

Continuing in the thread of human companionship, let's talk about "bromances." This oft-loved genre has its roots in the "buddy" films that often involve a hero and his friend or sidekick using their friendship to overcome all odds. Bromances in particular generally put a large amount of focus on both the strength and depth of the relationship, without putting it into a romantic context. While there is some debate as to what differentiates a bromance from a buddy film (or whether the genres are one and the same), both are staples in both comedy and action cinema, vital, vibrant, and nuanced.
Obviously, the standard we are judging by comes from the most famous examples of the Bromance: films like I Love You Man, Ted, and Superbad. But let's take a closer look at the genre with a few more examples you may or may not have seen.

Simon Pegg films are a treasure trove of bromances, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz being the most famous examples.  Many like how the writing acknowledges the absurdity of friends being forced to stick together against impossible odds. In Paul's case, it involves aliens and the CIA. Starring Simon Pegg , Seth Rogen, and Nick Frost, this buddy flick is crammed full of nerdy pop-culture references like a starship full of Tribbles.(Eh? Eh?)
This film takes every bromance cliche (the road trip, the bros-before-hos conundrum, the constant questioning by outsiders of their sexuality, etc.) and owns each and every one in a surprisingly unique way.  I think it's because of that staunch ownership that I'm always in the mood to watch Paul despite its over-the-top display . Though, to be fair, its razor sharp wit combined with foul-mouthed frankness make for constantly entertaining dialogue and it has some pretty good slapstick moments, so even if I didn't catch the geeky references I'd be entertained.
Ultimately, Paul is easily one of the most solid examples of true bromance on this list, and definitely worth watching. Be prepared to pause and rewind frequently to see little background cameos and Easter eggs.

 There's no stronger bromance than one forged in the fires of hardship. Also, you know what sucks? Cancer. Cancer sucks. 50/50 is a film about two bros (played by Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt) coming to terms with the difficulties in their relationship when one is diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer. The neatest thing about this flick is watching the story unfold as each man comes to realize how much the other cares about him.
Of course, it's still a comedy. Yes, it's a touching story, but you'll be laughing the whole time, except for about ten minutes toward the end, as such comedies go.

The Full Monty
This film is a classic bromance that has the added bonus of providing societal examination. In the mid-nineties, it was easy to see that the world had changed thanks to women entering the workforce in droves, and as equals (finally). The Full Monty was among the first films to display the plight of disempowered men, put out of work and unable to own their feelings of inferiority compared to the women in their lives. But the take on it is fairly lighthearted without seeming fake: what's a guy to do when he's down on his luck and needs some fast cash? Strip! It's a guaranteed formula for both comedy and success.
However, unlike the oglefest provided by Magic Mike, this film highlights a group of average middle-aged British men, rather than slick, hairless pretty boys. The far more difficult circumstances they face compared to the professional, muscly type men mirrors the difficulties of disenfranchised blue-collar man in a white-collar world.
Plus, it's a little strange looking back to an era in which a family of two could be supported on the income of one low-level management position that appears to be part time.  Eerie.

21 Jump Street
In addition to being a typical, cerebral-chewing-gum type comedy, this film paints a clear picture of the man (in this case men) out of his depth: in one case, out of his depth socially, in another, out of his depth mentally, and both coming to terms with the changes in their identities necessary to performing their jobs.
Also, there's some pretty gratuitous drug use and underage drinking. But we'll ignore that for now.
21 Jump Street takes every opportunity to play up the idea that our society is changing--we no longer value the meathead jock over the quirky theater nerd, for the most part. (Some places have yet to adapt.) In the age of the attention span, coolness is less about physical prowess and more what a person provides--whether it's social amusement, phat beats, a new life philosophy, or drugs--in this case, all of the above.
But it also takes the time to elaborate on what traits separate teenagers from adults: namely, the ability to both survive out of one's depth and to look beyond superficial social labels to make valuable connections in their lives. In a world where one can delete and/or block anyone who disagrees with their views or lifestyle, these two men rose above social stigma and became friends anyway. In other words, they grew up. Makes your constant bickering about gun laws with your sister-in-law's nephew seem kind of childish, doesn't it?
No? Fine. I'm blocking you.

Bottle Rocket
Many bromances focus on a plot whose premise operates outside the law, involving drug use, murder, extensive property damage, or falsifying documents. Bottle Rocket is an early heist film with Owen and Luke Wilson, with Idiocracy's Robert Musgrave thrown in for good measure. It's a film that tends to be most popular with those who like The Big Lebowski, as it's another lesser-known Wes Anderson film.
Comedy has frequently been focused on inept characters since the beginning of time: old-style theater characters such as the daffy and the dunce have, over time, given way to the stoner and the shmuck, but the idea remains the same. However, it's interesting to note that only bromances and buddy films are the generally accepted settings for these kinds of characters, as a comedic dunce would be completely out of place in a non-comedy film, and at time Bottle Rocket was made (1996), no one was interested in laughing at an inept trio of women make their way across the country on a crime spree. Though trends have changed in recent years, it's clear that men still have the market cornered in comedy involving general or social ineptitude.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
For some reason I have a strange penchant for bromances that stem from enmity or bitter rivalry. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a great example of this build. The two main characters (Robert Downey, Jr. and Val Kilmer) spend the first half of the movie expressing their vehement dislike of each other, but they keep hanging out. Why? Well, circumstances force them to, at least at first. But after that, these guys just keep finding themselves at the same places, simply because--well, okay, the perpetrators of a murder ring are trying to kill the both of them. Alright, honestly, these two pretty much never voluntarily hang out with one another. In fact, it's really not until the end that they acknowledge their bond. But that doesn't mean it doesn't manifest itself subtly, slowly, over the course of the film. Did I mention the acting is fantastic?
In addition, the pair is extremely lucky, a point Robert Downey, Jr.'s character makes repeatedly throughout the narrative. This film is a great example of the alluring nature of quantum immortality. That's something I'll be going over more later, so for now suffice to say that these characters are lovable because they're so lucky.

Pineapple Express
Stoner comedies are one of the most early harbingers of the bromance. Pineapple Express represents one of the more well-done examples of these.
Even the most serious of bromance films have comedic elements, it seems. The nice thing about comedy involving drug use is it doesn't even try to put on a serious face. In addition, there usually isn't much variance in the plot of the stoner comedy: Most follow an arc that involves travel or fleeing a superior force, followed by perceived betrayal of one party before a glorious explodey victory, peppered with gratuitous sexual references, drug, and alcohol use, and fantastically unlikely turns of events.
That being said, it is interesting that these kinds of films continue to be popular so long as the writing involves each of those elements. No major change of the genre has been demanded the way it has with action movies or horror films. Really, for all its smooth execution Pineapple Express stands out as the go-to stoner comedy mostly because the drug is in the movie's title; you don't get more overt than that.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
I hesitated to include Hitchiker's because it isn't the most popular of films, particularly among fans of the book series. But I wouldn't qualify it as a failure of a film. If anything, the film spends more time focusing on the bromance aspect than the books do. Part of this is because of author Douglas Adams' comedic style necessitates a slight bit of animosity between all of the characters, which the film doesn't translate as much.
At any rate, I included this film in the list because it so clearly highlights the importance of the bromance in this vast, cold, cruel universe. Main characters Arthur and Ford, played by Martin Freeman and Mos Def, stick together before, during and after the destruction of Earth, through thick and thin. Yes, even when every last McDonalds, Twinkie, and Facebook account in the universe is destroyed, these two show the true meaning of friendship with exactly enough cheese to make it believable. It's exactly the kind of feel-goody movie that we've all come to love, which is funny because of its extremely cynical take on the universe in general.

These are but a few of hundreds of wonderful bromances out there. What are some of your favorite bromances?