Editor’s Note: This article is presented in partnership with Fox Searchlight’s release of Mistress America, Noah Baumbach’s new film starring Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke. In theaters August 14th, 2015. Find out more here.
For their latest collaboration, filmmaker Noah Baumbach and actress and screenwriter Greta Gerwig are wading into familiar territory, with a twist.
The pair’s new feature, “Mistress America,” scans as a spiritual sister to their 2012 comedy, “Frances Ha,” but with a few creative tweaks to keep the material fresh. In “Mistress America,” Gerwig is again tasked with playing a charming and charismatic free spirit, though the film’s focus is less on her experience than that of her soon-to-be-stepsister, Tracy (Lola Kirke), who swiftly falls under Brooke’s (Gerwig) prodigious sway. The pair quickly bond, and soon lonely Tracy’s entire life is illuminated by the all the possibilities that having a new friend – especially one as special as Brooke – opens up for her, an adorable addition to the story that’s achingly relatable. It’s also a welcome addition to the world of great films about female friendship, joining the ranks of some of our favorite stories about BFFs of all stripes.
If it’s not the definitive film about the ups and downs (and ups and downs and still more ups and even steeper downs) of a lifelong friendship, Garry Marshall’s 1988 feature is at least the most heart-wrenching. The Oscar-nominated film follows apparent opposites CC (played as child by Mayim Balik, with Bette Midler taking on adult duties) and Hillary (played by Marcie Leeds, then Barbara Hershey) as they meet as children, bond over music and basically spend the rest of their lives together. The pair go through plenty of problems — a shared love interest certainly doesn’t help matters — but eventually come to understand that the most important relationship of their lives will always be with each other. They are, of course, the wind beneath each other wings.
Although Paul Feig’s riotous 2011 smash hit is ostensibly built around impending nuptials, it’s far more concerned with the bonds between the wedding party than the would-be bride and groom. Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph play lifelong best pals who are on very different life paths — a common theme in the genre — and who are forced to contend with their diverging journeys just as they should be celebrating adulthood’s greatest joys. Despite the film’s broad, brash humor, there’s honesty in the details, especially when Annie (Wiig) finally snaps at the interloping Helen (Rose Byrne) for trying to horn in on her maid of honor duties for Lillian (Rudolph). There are few things funnier than Kristen Wiig tipping over a giant chocolate fountain out of frustration, but the stew of emotions that lead to that moment are as genuinely human as you’d find in even the most dramatic of films.
3. “The Craft”
There’s a specificity to this 1996 fantasy that transcends the boundaries of its witchy plotline. It’s not that the four teenage girls at the heart of the film are into witchcraft (with solid returns on their work, compellingly enough), but that the four of them are all consumed by one single thing, wild as it may be. Some girls are into horses, or skateboarding, or theater — these girls just so happen to be into spells and calling up ancient spirits, a crazy idea that takes root in all of them at the same time, fueling their mutual obsessions and anxieties. The spellwork and magic may be cool, but the real power of the film is in the wild, hormonal emotions that force the once-tight foursome to unravel in truly terrifying fashion.
4. “Ghost World”
Some people just love to hate, as is the case with Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson), who are bonded by their mutual disdain for just about everything, except maybe each other. Their nihilistic worldview may be grating to most, but it’s kept the girls close for a very long time, and when that approach to the world is uprooted in unexpected ways, everything starts falling apart. Enid and Rebecca’s friendship may be strange, but it’s not particularly unique, and Terry Zwigoff’s film (based on Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel of the same name) accurately captures the intense pains and pleasures of having — and losing — a best friend who hates everything as much as you do.
5. “Walking and Talking”
Nicole Holofcener’s feature directorial debut is also concerned with once-close pals whose life choices are steadily forcing them apart, though she takes a trademark naturalistic approach to the situations at hand. There’s nothing flashy or over the top about the Anne Heche- and Catherine Keener-starring film, and the whole thing plays out in an extremely relatable fashion. Holofcener’s heroines talk (and walk) like regular people, a stylistic choice that makes the film all the more compelling.
6. “Fort Tilden”
Although this divisive SXSW winner stirred equal parts ire and admiration in its viewership when it debuted in 2014, the Brooklyn-set indie chronicles the fraught nature of co-dependent female friendships with razor wit. Leading ladies Harper (Bridey Elliott) and Allie (Clare McNulty) don’t exactly come across as the kind of gals most people would like to pal around with, but that warts-and-all approach allows some pretty hefty truths to shine through. As the pair struggles to make it to a local beach, the fractures in their friendship slowly reveals themselves – brutally self-involved Harper refuses to believe that Allie is actually about to embark on a new endeavor that would separate them, while Allie can’t understand why Harper is just being so damn mean about everything – and while not much is resolved by the end of the hilarious film, everything certainly looks much sharper.
7. “Frances Ha”
Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s first co-written outing focuses on the charmingly shiftless eponymous Frances (Gerwig), who literally dances through a bafflingly directionless life in New York City. Although Frances’ indomitable pluck helps her dash through all sorts of bad jobs and even worse dudes, it can’t save her from the lingering feeling that she’s lost the most important thing in her life: Her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner), who has moved on into adulthood without bothering to consult her whimsical BFF.
8. “The First Wives Club”
Bonded by circumstance and attached by adversity, the women of the First Wives Club (Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler and Diane Keaton) join together to overcome some of life’s most unfair blows, from a dead friend to a series of jerky ex-husbands. The trio, though initially bent on revenge, soon find that the most positive influence in their lives is the admiration and affection they feel for each other, men be damned.
9. “Me Without You”
The passion and depth of female friendships is dizzyingly captured in Sandra Goldbacher’s 2001 coming-of-age tale. Lifelong friends Marina (Anna Friel) and Holly (Michelle Williams) are so bonded that they insist on going by the singular nickname “Harina,” a demand that initially sounds sweet, but belies the toxicity that has seeped through their relationship. The time-hopping film catches the girls (and their friendship) throughout the years, eventually leading to a heartbreaking decision that’s worse than any romantic break-up, though it’s one that holds a smidge of promise for the future.
10. “Thelma & Louise”
Best remembered for its heart-stopping conclusion, Callie Khouri’s 1991 feature boasts smaller charms within its more low-key moments, ambitiously allowing a female friendship – and a later-in-life one, to boot – to take center stage in a film that’s all about action, revenge and shaky morals. It’s not just that “Thelma & Louise” is the sort of film we rarely see from a female perspective, it’s that it’s so damn good at doing it, an instant classic that seems immune to aging and just as refreshing as the day it was released.
11. “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion”
High school may have been horrible to Romy (Mira Sorvino) and Michele (Lisa Kudrow), but at least they emerged from four years of hell with a bonafide best friend. The film picks up when the girls have – literally – moved away from the site of their teenage terror and seemingly gotten on with their lives, complete with cute matching outfits. That all changes when their high school reunion comes calling, a mostly-awful event that challenges the pair and forces them to reevaluate the importance of their friendship above all else, set to the dulcet tones of Cyndi Lauper.