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.
Twenty years ago Roger Ebert wrote that a moment in Dumb and Dumber, “made me laugh so loudly I embarrassed myself.”
The movie, starring Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels as the chicken-brained Lloyd and Harry, made 250 million dollars at the box office and seemed likely to spawn a sequel but nothing happened for almost twenty years. There was a prequel, Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, but it was a Carrey-and-Daniel-less exercise in futility I called, “one of the least funny and ineptly made movies to ever play at your local multi-plex,” on its 2003 release.
So why did it take 19 years and 333 days to release a Dumb and Dumber follow-up? Carrey says he wasn’t into doing sequels but softened because everyone kept hounding him, he joked, “even dead people.”
Fans had to wait ages for Dumb and Dumber’s return, but two decades is a mere drop in the bucket when compared to the gap between the 1942 Disney classic Bambi and it’s sequel Bambi II. A ten-year-old who saw the original would have been old enough to send their grandkids to get popcorn refills when the sequel hit theatres overseas (it went direct to DVD in North America) almost sixty-four years later.
Thirty years after Alfred Hitchcock made seagulls menacing in The Birds a made-for television-movie called The Birds II: Land’s End revisited the killer avian story. Tippi Hedren, star of the original, signed on and it was shot in the house from the first film, but that’s where the similarities between the two end. The New York Times called the film “feeble,” and Hedren said, “It’s absolutely horrible, it embarrasses me horribly.”
29 years and 343 days after 1968’s The Odd Couple hit the big screen, writer Neil Simon and stars Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau reunited for The Odd Couple II. “We always had bad chemistry,” says Oscar Madison (Matthau). “We mix like oil and frozen yogurt.” It marked the last starring roles for each of its leads and the final collaboration between Lemmon and Matthau after making ten movies together.
These days Hollywood seems obsessed with sequels and next year will be no different. Mad Max: Fury Road, starring Tom Hardy in the role that made Mel Gibson famous, returns thirty years after Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Jurassic World revisits Jurassic Park III thirteen years later. The biggest sequel news of the year—maybe of the decade—is the December 2015 release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In the official Starr Wars chronology the new film follows 1983’s Return of the Jedi after a space of 32 years and 207 days.
The new issue of Vanity Fair says Paul Rudd may become “this generation’s Jack Lemmon.” It’s a particularly astute observation given the release of this weekend’s I Love You, Man, a buddy comedy co-starring Rudd and Jason Segel. They play an odd couple; BFFs with nothing in common except friendship.
If that set-up sounds familiar, it should. Lemmon was a buddy film pioneer and his popularity helped establish the genre as a top Hollywood moneymaker. As The Odd Couple’s Felix Unger he had the classic buddy picture one-liner, “I’m a neurotic nut, but you’re crazy,” a joke that wouldn’t be out-of-place in the third act of I Love You, Man.
Without Lemmon bouncing wisecracks off a mismatched on-screen pal in The Odd Couple, Buddy Buddy and even Grumpy Old Men, there may never have been a Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Pineapple Express or Swingers.
There is an argument to be made that buddy comedies have always been a Hollywood staple.
It could be said that Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy were making buddy comedies long before Lemmon and Tony Curtis donned dresses and camped it up in Some Like It Hot, but for my money the Billy Wilder film about two musicians who witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and flee the state disguised as women sets the template for the modern buddy movie.
The basic formula is there — colliding personalities, wisecracks 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 have to fly between them or the whole thing will fall flat. Brett Ratner, director of Rush Hour, calls great 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 journeymen of the genre, co-starring in six buddy pictures ranging from the sublime — The Odd Couple — to the ridiculous — Grumpier Old Men.
Other less iconic one-off on-screen pals include Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger as fraternal twins separated at birth in Twins, Blazing Saddles’ Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little, and Greg Kinnear and Pierce Brosnan as a down-on-his-luck businessman and a has-been assassin in The Matador.
There are as many kinds of buddy movies as there are kinds of buddies, so why have the movies endured and prospered over the years?
Maybe it’s because they make good date movies. Perhaps men like them because they’re about male bonding and women like to see how men behave when they’re not around. “It’s amazing how different things are when guys are with guys and guys are with women,” says Barry Levinson, director of the classic male bonding film Diner.