May PANorama: Female Friendships and Comedy

Dear Readers,

It’s the fourth Monday of the month, which means that it’s time for one of our chapter PAN members (PAN stands for Published Authors Network, a professional designation within RWA open to members who reach a certain level of sales) to visit the blog to share some of their wisdom and expertise.

This month, Maureen McGowen talks about the art of writing about female friendships.

Take it away, Maureen!

Female Friendships and Comedy

~ By Maureen McGowan

The recent release of Something Borrowed and Bridesmaids got me thinking about the way that female friendships are portrayed in Hollywood comedies.

I’ve never understood why, when Hollywood screenwriters are trying to write humor for women, they think the only answer is to have the characters be viciously mean to each other and/or have them act like toddlers fighting over toys.

One relatively recent film that really bothered me was Bridal Wars, with Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway. I went to this movie hoping for a light 90 minutes of fun and instead I got angry. I get that it was comedy and exaggerated, but to me the idea that these two best friends would get so vicious over a wedding venue was appalling. Not to mention the ways in which they let their fight escalate. Who behaves that way? Throughout that whole movie, I wanted to tell them both to grow up.

Yes, women get jealous of each other. PEOPLE get jealous of each other. And we all sometimes behave in ways we later regret. But I’ve never understood where this stereotype of women attacking other women comes from. As if it’s the default behavior of our gender to claw each other’s eyes out at the slightest provocation. As if we all secretly want each other to fail.

That has not been my experience with any real-life women I have known.

On the other hand, Bridesmaids did an excellent job of portraying a real female friendship and it was funnier than all those catfight movies. Plus, it was genuinely touching. It’s also about a long-term friendship on the rocks, but instead of resorting to catfight territory, the film found a way to make the friendship seem real — you could tell these women love each other, even when things go downhill so far they aren’t speaking.

I think most women can identify with the not-so-commendable but complex emotions that Kristen Wiig’s character experiences in the movie — trying to be happy for her best friend, while feeling jealous and mourning the fact that nothing’s going to ever be the same between them again. I think any woman who’s had a best friend or sister get married, or a friend develop a new friendship that excludes her, or a friend who otherwise moves into a different phase of her life, can identify with the mixed emotions that Kristen Wiig experiences.

Sure, some of the things she does to act out were a tad over the top (it is a comedy) but I totally believed the motivation behind all her actions and it wasn’t over something trivial. It was over their friendship. It was over being hurt. It wasn’t over a room. And a lot of the funniest moments where Wiig is ruining things for her friend, her motivation isn’t malicious; rather there’s a series of unfortunate circumstances. She doesn’t pick that restaurant hoping they’ll all get sick, and when Rose Byrne dopes her up on the plane, she might not have wonderful motivations but I don’t believe anyone expected what happened. Byrne just wants Wiig to stop fall asleep and/or stay away.

Speaking of Rose Byrne, even Bridesmaid‘s “mean girl” has a heart in the end and we understand the motivations behind her misdeeds–loneliness.

I wish more movies portrayed female relationships in such a real way and took the time to develop female characters.

To that end, I’d like every female writer reading this to take a solemn oath.

All together: I shall not portray female friendships using blatant negative stereotypes.

What do think? Am I off base here? Was I just in a bad mood when I saw Bride Wars? If you saw Bridesmaids, did you love the friendship between Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph as much as I did?

Maureen McGowan is the author of Cinderella: Ninja Warrior and Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer, adventurous fairy tale re-imaginings where the heroines are capable of saving themselves—and get the prince. You can keep in touch with her at , follow her on Twitter or “like” her on Facebook and Goodreads.

4 thoughts on “May PANorama: Female Friendships and Comedy”

  1. Chris and Jeff… It’s interesting I’ve had 2 men comment on this post. In my first draft of this post, I resorted to a stereotype too and blamed the negative female portrayals in Hollywood movies on men. Then I looked up who wrote Bride Wars and it was a woman and I realized the irony of my mistake and removed those couple of lines.

    I think the trick in comedy is to stay true to the characters and their motivations and not force them to behave in silly ways just so you, the writer, can get a laugh. Another example is a character who falls down all the time. It was part of Bridget Jones’s character… then everyone thought, ah, to make my character funny and endearing I’ll have her fall down all the time…

  2. I’m, er … not totally qualified to comment about the overall topic since I don’t claim to understand women and therefore couldn’t possibly understand the intricacies of how they relate to one another. However, I do think I’m more insightful than most guys because I worked among many women for many years.
    That said, in my 6 novel ms. (as yet unpublished) none of my female protagonists act in those negative stereotypes. I wrote one scene in Ms # 4 in which my heroine was approaching the coffee pot in the staff lounge and realized the two co-workers already there were temporarily freezing her out merely out of a habitual claim-staking ritual. But, since she realized the dynamic, she paused just a few feet away and lifted her cup very slightly — signalling peaceful intentions — and they very civilly stepped aside to let her to the pot. Then, they very civilly let her into their on-going conversation (which related to the plot).
    I’ve observed that scene and it’s not limited to women, of course. But I thought it effective in my ms, because those two co-workers had an on-going (though low-level) resentment of my heroine because she had her own office … and they didn’t.

  3. I’ll take the pledge, Maureen! In the quest for amped-up drama, there’s a definite temptation to throw truth out the window. But the best stories reveal truth. Real women can be friends.

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