This weekend Reese Witherspoon and Sofía Vergara play a by-the-book cop and the widow of a drug boss in the comedy Hot Pursuit. The unlikely duo hit the road, teaming up to outrun crooked cops and a murderous cartel. “Right now we can’t trust anyone but each other,” says Reese as they crack wise and dodge bullets.
It’s a movie that follows in the long tradition of Hollywood buddy comedies.
There’s an argument to be made that Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy originated buddy comedies long before Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis donned dresses and camped it up in 1959’s Some Like It Hot. For my money, however, the Billy Wilder film about two musicians who witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and flee the state disguised as women set the template for the modern buddy movie.
The basic formula is there — colliding personalities, gibes and comic conflict between the two actors — but more important than any of that is the chemistry between Lemmon and Curtis. Even though every buddy picture relies on tension between the leads, sparks also have to fly between them or the whole thing will fall flat.
Brett Ratner, director of Rush Hour 1, 2 and 3—which paired Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan to great effect—calls interesting chemistry between actors “an explosion in a bottle” and says it’s crucial to the success of any buddy pic.
Since Some Like It Hot, producers have paired up a laundry list of actors searching for the perfect mix. Lemmon and Walter Matthau were the journeymen of the genre, co-starring in six buddy pictures ranging from the sublime—The Odd Couple, which features the classic buddy picture one-liner, “I’m a neurotic nut, but you’re crazy.”— to the ridiculous — Grumpier Old Men.
The female buddy comedy is a more elusive beast. Recently Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock teamed as a tough-talking street cop and uptight, lone wolf FBI agent to bring down a murderous drug dealer in The Heat and in the 1980s Bette Midler was the Queen of the form, pairing off with Shelley Long for Outrageous Fortune and with Lily Tomlin for Big Business in which both stars played dual roles, making it a buddy comedy times two. “Two’s company. Four’s a riot,” read the movie tagline.
There are others, dating back to 1937’s Stage Door, but there is no debating that Hollywood has been slow to feature female bonding as a subject of buddy movies. It’s wild there are two man-and-his-dog buddy movies—Turner and Hootch and K9—but so few featuring women. Despite the box office success of several female buddy comedies sequels have been as rare as hen’s teeth. For instance, Vulture.com points out that of the duelling buddy comedies released on April 25, 2008—Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s Baby Mama and Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay—Fey and company grossed $60 million, while Harold and friends made $38 million and yet the guys laughed all the way to another sequel while Baby Mama remains a one off.
Hollywood is finally warming to the idea of female driven comedies, so perhaps this weekend Witherspoon and the highest paid woman on television can generate enough box office dough to warrant another team-up. In the movie biz money usually speaks louder than anything, including gender.
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence first paired off in Silver Linings Playbook — he was a divorced substitute teacher, jailed for beating his wife’s boyfriend half to death; she was a troubled widow who needed his help to win a dance competition — and sparks flew.
Next they shared scenes, but no romance, in American Hustle. And, this weekend, they make it a trifecta with the release of Serena. Based on the novel by Ron Rash, Cooper and Lawrence play husband and wife lumber barons whose marriage becomes strained after she suffers a miscarriage. Despite having shared love scenes in movies, Cooper says they have kept the romance onscreen.
“I mean, first of all, I could be her father,” he says.
The re-teaming of Cooper and Lawrence in Serena proves that lightning does not always strike thrice.
The “it” couple had chemistry to burn in their previous pairings but fail to set off sparks here. As George and Serena they are ruthless and selfish, which should be the stuff of interesting characters, but the story throws so many hurdles their way that eventually it becomes one big, boring blur.
Some onscreen couples, however, have managed to keep the flame alive through several films.
After a 16-year separation, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan — the pre-eminent cinema sweethearts of the 1990s — will reunite in the World War II drama Ithaca.
The three rom coms that made them superstars, Joe Versus the Volcano, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, were fuelled by the platonic chemistry they share in real life.
“He makes me feel less alone,” says Ryan.
Kate Winslet and co-star Leonardo DiCaprio are so close in real life that her children refer to him as Uncle Leo. As Titanic’s star-crossed lovers Jack and Rose, they defined romantic tragedy for a whole generation before recoupling 11 years later in the feel-bad love story Revolutionary Road.
Despite what fans thought, their friendship never turned romantic off-screen. “He always saw me as one of the boys,” said Kate.
Despite falling in love over and over again in movies like The Wedding Singer, 50 First Dates and Blended, Drew Barrymore says she and Adam Sandler have exchanged nothing more than a “church kiss.”
“That’s probably why we’ve been able to stick together all these years,” she says, “because there never was that awkward moment.”
The lesson learned is that chemistry off-screen often leads to good results on the screen, but not always. Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe fogged up the lens in Some Like It Hot, but reportedly did not like one another.
“Grand Hotel… always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.”
That famous line from the Greta Garbo film Grand Hotel is only half right. Hundreds of movies have used hotels as a backdrop for the action because people come, people go, but despite the quote’s assertion, there’s always something happening.
This weekend’s The Grand Budapest Hotel is a case in point. Starring Ralph Fiennes as a concierge at a European hotel between the world wars, it features an all-star cast, including Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Harvey Keitel and Edward Norton. They are all part of the fabric of the hotel’s history, which includes assassins, murder, riches and a mysterious painting.
Hollywood has always recognized that the transient nature of hotels makes for great drama.
New York City’s Plaza Hotel has played host to many famous movie scenes. Everything from Barefoot in the Park to Funny Girl to The Great Gatsby has used the iconic hotel as a backdrop, but it is probably best known as a location for North by Northwest. In the Alfred Hitchcock film Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) is mistaken for a government agent and kidnapped from the ornate lobby.
The opening shot of Goldfinger features a stunning aerial view of Miami’s Fontainebleau Hotel, which at the time was the most luxurious guesthouse on Miami Beach. Later in the film Bond Girl Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) dies of skin asphyxiation inside the hotel after henchman Oddjob (Harold Sakata) coats her whole body in gold paint.
In the 1920’s the Hotel del Coronado was a famous weekend getaway for Hollywood stars like Mae West, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable and Errol Flynn but the Victorian wooden beach resort found fame as the setting for several scenes in Some Like it Hot. Located on San Diego Bay across from San Diego, the beachfront location was the scene of one of the film’s most famous lines. When Jerry (Jack Lemmon) first spies Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) sashaying through the sand he says, “Look how she moves! It’s like Jell-O on springs.”
Stephen King was inspired to write The Shining after staying at the 140-room Stanley Hotel in Colorado. “I think a lot of things happened right here in this particular hotel over the years,” says Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) in the film version. “And not all of ’em was good.”
The Stanley has been used as a location for Dumb and Dumber and other films, but Stanley Kubrick chose not to showcase the place in his 1980 adaptation of the novel. Instead, much to King’s disappointment, he used Oregon’s Timberline Lodge as a stand-in for the film’s fictional Overlook Hotel.