In Hollywood movies, men and women are never "just friends."

Friendships between men and women.
Sept. 28 2010 7:14 AM

Harry and Sally

In Hollywood movies, men and women are never "just friends."

Click here to launch a slideshow on the male-female "friendship" in movies.

Of the hundreds of movies my friend Jeff and I watched growing up—on VHS at his house, at the multiplexes on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, or at the independent cinemas downtown—not a single one accurately captured our close, platonic relationship. My standard for accuracy here isn't particularly high: I neither expected nor desired a feature about two smallish New York teens who watch movies when they're not doing homework. It's actually rather low: A script about a boy and a girl who enjoy spending time together but have no interest in having sex—that is, a script about a genuine male-female friendship—would have been satisfactory.

Distracted by gritty '70s dramas and anything by Woody Allen, we may have overlooked a cache of male-female buddy movies. So I asked everyone at Slate and dozens of my Gmail contacts to tell me whether such movies exist. Building from those nominations, plus the assistance of IMDB and Netflix keyword searches, I compiled a list of some 50 films and several TV shows that supposedly depict platonic friendship. Then I watched them all.  

What I found is that there is no secret cache. It's not surprising that most Hollywood movies depict romantic rather than platonic relations between straight men and women, if only because it's more exciting to watch two people flirt than to watch them chatter sexlessly. But the situation is more extreme than that: With very few exceptions, the movies that do broach the concept of male-female friendship make a point of dismissing it—they contend that platonic love is impossible.

The classic thesis, popularized by When Harry Met Sally…, is that friendship bleeds into romance; it's a precursor to marriage. Friendship films that don't end in romantic union are generally frustration narratives, in which one party is secretly in love with the other and feels dissatisfied—deeply, unalterably dissatisfied—with the tenor of the relationship. There are variations on these themes, discussed in the accompanying slide show, but the message is almost always the same: "Friendship" between a man and a woman requires scare quotes.

Click to go to an article on the origins of the term "platonic friendship."

Juliet Lapidos is a former Slate associate editor.

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