Sunday, July 6, 2008

On Male Friendship In Film

I read once that the mainstreaming of (male) homosexuality had a negative impact on male friendship. That is, because of the acceptance and prevalence of gay culture, straight males could not express friendship in the same ways as they once might have without fear of having their own sexuality undermined. For example, men crying and hugging and kissing is pretty commonly described in the literature of previous eras and cultures without any apparent suggestion of teh gay. (Similar thoughts were expressed about other sorts of sexual practices, such as incest. And Lord knows, I was quickly disabused of what it meant to be a "dog lover" five minutes after I entered a chat room.)

Interesting if true, as they say.

I was thinking about it because someone in this house absolutely lurves Hot Fuzz, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's follow up to the classic Shaun of the Dead. It's easy to see Fuzz and think, "Wow, that Simon Pegg can really act up a storm! He's nothing like he was in Shaun!" And there's a lot of truth to that. But it's actually Nick Frost who hits it out of the park in the police spoof.

The thing is, Frost is fat and dopey looking, and the sort of guy who'd easily be typecast. He's an underachiever in both movies. But his characters are, in fact, completely different, and both times, his friendship with Pegg's character is the lynchpin of the movie.

In Shaun, he's just a repulsive slacker, who nonetheless, when you get past his stupidity and clumsiness, will stick with his friend to the end.

Ah, but in Fuzz, he's Danny, a big, innocent, naive sort-of kid, who's been kept down by various forces I won't spoil here. His character changes by becoming more serious, by chasing the dream he has heretofore lived vicariously through action flicks.

The relevant aspect, however, is that Hot Fuzz originally featured a love interest. But Pegg and Wright removed that character and left much of the dialog to Danny's character without changing a word. I remember thinking at the time that some of what he was saying was a little...odd...and some of his emotional reactions were somewhat large, but overall, the scheme works brilliantly.

And it works brilliantly precisely because there's no sex (or chance of sex) involved. As much as we'd like for Pegg's character (Nick) to find love and happiness--he's spurned by Cate Blanchett's eyes, in one of the odder cameos in cinema history--his relationship with Danny is pure. Any romantic relationship can be spun cynically as a purely self-serving play for sex, but Nick has been kicked out of London by self-serving jerks, and is now serving in Sandford with even more jerks.

Danny's adoration of Nick is returned with genuine respect, with Danny recognizing Nick for his (really) superhuman talent, and Nick seeing the good and potentially competent in Danny. Nick never condescends and Danny becomes his chance to forge a real bond with another human being.

It's really one of the great male relationships on film in recent memory. The sweetness transforms into a more typical, macho, action relationship in the last half-hour of the film, which itself is pure action movie. (I'm looking forward to the third entry in Pegg and Wright's "Blood and Ice Cream" trilogy.)

I'm reminded of another great male cinematic relationship: Gods and Monsters. But that one's a lot more complicated.

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