Fictional friendships have been the foundation of my actual friendships for as long as I can remember. It’s as if we’re all just living in one big “Which Character Are You” BuzzFeed quiz, constantly assigning each other to the TV or film equivalents of our real selves. Take, for example, how my roommate recently said I was the Carrie-Charlotte to his Samantha-Miranda (I don’t know how I feel about the Carrie part, but I suppose I do literally have a column on this very website). It comes from the same universal impulse of saying “me,” “us,” “mood,” or “same” while watching things. No matter how outlandish and not “me” at all it may be, the relationships we see on the screen have the power to resonate deeply.
While pop culture adores a teenage friendship—there’s so much drama to mine from spiking hormones, how could you not—the media which depicts adult friendships can be formative in ways we don’t always realize, shaping our expectations as often our self-perceptions. This can be both gratifying and disappointing, depending on the show we’re measuring ourselves against. So, in observance of Adult Friendship month at Man Repeller, I’ve put together a list of seven iconic shows and films about this tricky, joyous, awkward, and sometimes devastating arena, ranked from least to most realistic. Okay, here we go.
The Fab Three (and Carrie) of Sex and the City
Perhaps you, like I, envisioned your adult life through the lens of Sex and the City, waiting for the day you’d move to New York City, living a life of high-heeled brunches and designer mimosas. I got the NYC part down, but the weekly brunch part not so much, and the shoe purchases happen far less frequently (and at half price). This is a show I ritualistically watch from beginning to end over and over again, but it’s only made clearer each time that it has a lot of unrealistic portrayals of female friendship (and, well, financial responsibility, among other things). On the topic of friendship here, I really want to know how each of them managed to find so much time for each other—and somehow mostly just each other—while having flourishing, independent careers! And then there is, of course, the big bad Carrie problem (hence my objection at being half-Carrie). She was so frequently self-centered and judgmental about her friends’ lifestyle choices I sometimes can’t believe she was able to keep them around. That said, maybe her friends were able to forgive her in the same way I keep forgiving the show’s shortcomings so that I can continue watching it on a forever loop.
The Last Days of Disco’s Toxic Duo
Whit Stillman’s 1998 film features a female friendship I devour on the screen, making it one of my all-time favorite movies, but in real life would be too toxic to find amusing. The Last Days of Disco is centered on two privileged twenty-something roommates who work in publishing together: Charlotte (Kate Beckinsale) and Alice (Chloë Sevigny). I tend to be the less domineering presence in most friendships, so I’ve always identified with the shy, soft-spoken Alice—and not least because Charlotte says she’s “such a Scorpio” (fellow Scorp here, as is Sevigny IRL). In an especially jabbing scene, Charlotte, under the guise of giving dating advice, knocks Alice down by telling her, “there’s something of the kindergarten teacher about you.” She also says, “in physical terms I’m a bit cuter.” Wow. Imagine that! It’s not that people like Charlotte aren’t realistic (hopefully you don’t know too many of them), it’s just boggling that Alice doesn’t immediately ghost the party and find a new disco joint. Though hey, she’s young, susceptible, and, as the title suggests, disco clubs were becoming a scarcity. Plus sometimes you gotta shack up with whoever you can in NYC because real estate is a bitch. In a few years’ time, maybe they’ll mature and have a heart to heart and reminisce about the days they used to cut the rug to Chic’s “Everybody Dance.”
Broad City: The BFFs Who Share TMI
The situations in Broad City can get surreally ridiculous, but what feels realistic is the amount of love that exists between this true best friendship. Have I ever smuggled or had a friend smuggle literal shit out of the apartment when a crush is over? Absolutely not. But it’s nice to think that there could be someone in my life who’d get so down and dirty. The TMI boundaries crossed by their friendship is still a bit foreign for me but the would-die-for-each-other-ness makes this show the pinnacle of relationship goals. Sure I’ve never had to help my friend clean the apartment of a grown man pretending to be a baby in an elaborate plot to get Lil Wayne tickets, but when my BFF and I are running around New York being absolutely un-self-consciously silly, it feels a lot like Abbi and Ilana’s unbreakable bond. (I’m probably—no, definitely—an Abbi.)
Set It Off: Literal Ride or Dies
Set It Off heartbreakingly captures how crime can feel like the only way out of a corrupt system, especially if you’re a black woman. Much like Thelma & Louise, this F. Gary Gray film starring Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, and Kimberly Elise (wow what a squad), is about a literal ride-or-die friendship. The highs are high—no actually, they smoke weed on a rooftop together in one of the film’s most joyous scenes—but then life throws down one roadblock after another, from the unjust murder of a brother to a child being unfairly taken away. All of that builds up to a bank robbery heist, which only gets more complicated when Stony (Pinkett Smith) starts dating a handsome bank manager. Through it all, the four women bolster each other up—systemic oppression will strip them of everything, but not their ride-or-die love for each other.
Girls Trip’s “Flossy Posse”
Aaaand here’s a Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah reunion under much less harrowing circumstances. The set-up is similar, with four women, and there’s even a Set It Off reference in there (Tiffany Haddish says “let’s set it off” on the dance floor and Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah give each other knowing looks), but Malcolm D. Lee’s vision of camaraderie is all about getting buck-wild in New Orleans. The self-proclaimed “Flossy Posse” have been buds for a while, but have naturally drifted apart over the years. One work trip turned girls trip shows how easy it is to throw inhibitions out the window and go back to the way things were in a younger, simpler time. It’s a realistic depiction of what it’s like to meet up with a best friend after many years can almost feel like no time has passed at all. There’s always the wild one pushing others to break out of their shells (and by that I mean zipline over Bourbon Street and piss on everyone) and that fierce protectiveness you have for your girl never really goes away. We all know women have their Hangover moments, too, but few films are willing to show that. Plus, Tiffany Haddish demonstrating the proper use for a grapefruit is not just cinema—it’s true friendship.
The Work Wives of The Bold Type
I love a female-focused New York City TV show (as you may have gathered from my SATC love), and The Bold Type happened to highlight women close to my age in my very industry: the three leads, Kat, Jane, and Sutton, work for a Cosmopolitan-esque magazine called Scarlett. As with any show of this nature, the girls find love, suffer heartbreak, get into sticky professional situations, what have you, but what I found so refreshing about it was that there are so few fights among the friends. They are just genuinely supportive—within believable situations—that mirrors my own friendships with long-time friends. It’s also a great case for how recently-made friends in the workplace can become not just your work wives but…life wives (?). Especially compared to the teen shows I grew up on (like The O.C. or Gossip Girl), in which every episode someone is misunderstanding a situation and putting friends on and off their blacklist, The Bold Type’s boldest move might be that the drama is totally low-key amongst the main trio. (Well maybe except for that ridiculous gun episode, for those who know what I’m talking about.)
Before Frances Ha, There Was Girlfriends
A still-underseen predecessor to Frances Ha, this gem of a movie by Claudia Weill was released in 1978 but has only been getting the canonization treatment over the past few years. If you love Greta Gerwig and everything she represents for awkward millennial adulthood, wait ‘til you meet Melanie Mayron. Girlfriends’s protagonist, Susan (Mayron), finds herself suddenly alone when her BFF-slash-roommate Anne gets married and moves out. Susan and Anne had a boundary-blurring closeness, but with Anne doing the adult thing and settling down, Susan is left to expand her social circle, pursue her artistic career, and become an independent New York woman. Of course none of this comes easily to her—after all, she’s the relatable, bumbling heroine figuring out her life—but the film beautifully comes back to how the two friends can rebuild and redefine their relationship.
Photos via Everett Collection and Getty Images.