Two's company: Rewriting the buddy movie

Guns and macho banter have long been the staples of the traditional buddy movie. Now a new indie film is rewriting the script.

There was a time when a buddy film would have men being men and women, well, stuck at home doing the washing for all the interest that film-makers had in them. It was 1969's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid that set the rules of the genre and established that it was box-office dynamite to make movies where the two male leads bicker like an old married couple.

Any homoeroticism that this dynamic might have aroused was banished by showing Butch and Sundance getting their kicks by shooting their guns and placing their women firmly in the kitchen and bedroom. These guys had no sensitive side when it came to their gals. We're first introduced to Katharine Ross when Robert Redford holds a gun to her in a sexual power play. She simply chastises him for being "late". Soon afterwards Redford tells Paul Newman, whom he suspects of coveting his woman, that he can have her.

Little wonder, then that Philippa Glass in the Journal of Popular Film & Television argued that buddy films emerged in the 1970s as a response to feminism, arguing that "to punish women for their desire of sexual equality, the buddy film pushes them out of the centre of the narrative and replaces the traditional central romantic relationships between a man and a woman with a buddy relationship between two men. By making both protagonists men, the central issue of the film becomes the growth and development of their friendship. Women as potential love interests are thus either eliminated from the narrative space or pushed into the background as side characters".

The common qualities of the emerging buddy films were violence, witty banter and misogyny, which found a home in genre staples traditionally seen as the preserve of men – sports flicks, westerns, road movies and, most often, police dramas. The two seats at the front of the police car proved the perfect excuse to lock out women. There has been the occasional aberration where women have been given the central role in buddy stories, most notably Thelma and Louise in 1991; otherwise the conventions have remained the same.

Now, Goodbye Solo, from American director Ramin Bahrani, following hot on the heels of Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain and Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy, marks the coming of age of the buddy movie. No longer are they boys' own adventures, these are tales are about men struggling with their emotions, powerless to change their environment and unable to alter events. Male bonding is still central, but the difference is that these films all feature emasculated men as their heroes.

The Solo of the title is the nickname given to a Senegalese taxi driver Souleymane (Souleymane Sy Savane), who picks up passengers in North Carolina, where director Bahrani was raised. On one such journey, William (Red West), a stoic 70-year-old, offers Solo $1,000 if he promises to drive him to a suicide spot, Blowing Rock, in a fortnight. Solo is convinced that should he befriend William and show him the joys of life so that his passenger will change his mind. So starts a friendship in which Solo leaves his wife and daughter and moves into William's hotel room, as if to prove that life can be changed for the better through sheer willpower alone.

Emotionally wrought, moving, wistful and sensitive are words not usually associated with the buddy movie. In fact, the maturation of the male bonding tale is reflective of a bigger change taking place in American cinema, one that has seen the 34-year-old Bahrani described as "the new great American film director" by the renowned film critic Roger Ebert. The change in attitude has come at a moment when independent American directors are starting to make films with a more European flavour.

Bahrani's two previous films are Man Push Cart, a melancholic New York tale of a Pakistani coffee stall owner, and Chop Shop, which focuses on a Dominican mechanic. New York film critic A O Scott argues that his films, alongside the works of Americans Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Old Joy), So Yung Kim (Treeless Mountain), Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (Half-Nelson, Sugar), and Lance Hammer (Ballast) belong to a new genre of film: neo-neo realism.

These are stories that depict unfamiliar characters – shopkeepers, homeless job-seekers, cab drivers, in short those not normally shown on screen – usually played by non-actors in roles that are close to their own lives. The locations and environments are all real, just as was the case with the Italian neo-realism films that appeared after the Second World War. There's more than a hint of realist Robert Bresson in the humanist and naturalist tone of these films.

The surprise of these films is that the traditional response of American cinema in times of economic hardship has been to indulge in escapist movies. Now, in the first recession of the post-9/11 era, it seems that American directors are responding with realism, an escape from escapism perhaps. The new economic reality may also have made it possible for these films to reach an audience for the first time. When the American independents first broke the ubiquity of the studio system, studios soon began to throw money at directors such as Jim Jarmusch and Spike Lee, creating their own companies to make mid-budget independent films. In no time at all, American independents became formulaic, specialising in the wacky, with quirky love stories or offbeat comedies.

The closure of their independent arms by most studios has cut off an avenue to financing for indie film-makers. Now directors are working on budgets where even paying for mid-level stars is untenable. Directors such as Bahrani and Reichardt teach to make ends meet when not filming, but conversely the lack of money also gives them more power over their own films. All of a sudden, the budgets in the independent American sector are comparable to those in Europe, so these directors have taken to making films in the tried-and-tested manner of their European counterparts. The great news for audiences is that a lot of the clichés of American film, including the buddy movie, are being ripped to pieces. More pertinently, a whole previously unseen segment of life in the United States is reaching our cinema screens.

Goodbye Solo is out on 9 October

Double act: The best buddy movies

Withnail and I (1987)

Withnail (Richard E Grant) and Marwood (Paul McGann) abandon squalid London life for a break in the countryside cottage of Uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths). Audiences have been drinking to their tumultuous escapades ever since.

48 Hours (1982)

Eddie Murphy is at his hilarious best as the wise-cracking criminal allowed out on parole for two days to help a hard-nosed San Francisco cop (Nick Nolte) in his latest investigation.

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Director John Schlesinger won an Oscar for his pairing of a young wannabe male prostitute (Jon Voight) with a sickly cripple (Dustin Hoffman), who form an unlikely friendship on the streets of New York.

Thelma and Louise (1991)

Sisters can do it for themselves. This film overturned the belief that violent road movies with witty gun-totting protagonists were the preserve of men.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
film
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be Lonely Island's second Hollywood venture following their 2007 film Hot Rod
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Day-Lewis stars in the movie There Will Be Blood
music
Arts and Entertainment
Brush with greatness: the artist Norman Cornish in 1999
art
Life and Style
Stress less: relaxation techniques can help focus the mind and put problems in context
art
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment