There’s a kind of love you share with your best friend(s) that’s not quite romance but is a deeper connection than you have with anyone else. It’s a sort of romantic love where you’d rather be with this person than anyone else. Something that’s not nearly celebrated enough, but should be. However, friendship love skews more in the territory of romanticism than it does romance. This Valentine’s Day, instead of littering your brain with heteronormative romance hogwash, nurture it with films that truly embody the themes of romanticism.
In films that are rooted in a search for the self and the relationships are built to help the characters evolve and grow. There is a sense of incompleteness without this friend counterpart to help the main character find his or her way. They’re usually both individualists who balk at the idea of fitting in. In fact, a lot of the time these relationships begin because they characters are outsiders.
This sort of relationship is highlighted in the classic western. Films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Thelma & Louise, display this dynamic, while also incorporating the romantic’s love of nature. These films all focus on the magical landscape of the wild west and how it lurden men from across the world with the promise of frontier freedom and the release of their past.
In Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the best friends and outlaws of the same name, do a double train robbery and then escape to Bolivia with Sundance’s girlfriend. When it appears they’re being tracked by the men hired to capture them after the train robbery, they ditch them and return to America. Butch and Sundance become more dedicated to each other, steal the payroll at their first non-con related job and also go on the lam from the Bolivian authorities. It ends in a blaze of glory with Butch and his best pal the Sundance Kid storming towards the officers who have them surrounded.
In this same way, Thelma & Louise find themselves as outlaws in a modern day wild west. After Louise kills a rapist, the duo decides to their crimes seem bigger than they are so they go on the run. When there’s no end in sight, Thelma and Louise drive off a cliff together holding hands, like a sort of Romeo and Juliet but if they were best friends and feminist icons instead of lovers.
In this same way, modern day Disney films also employ a sense of real romanticism. Movies like Lilo & Stitch, and Frozen focus on friendships that become necessary in order for the main character to complete a goal and change for the better. In Lilo & Stitch, Lilo’s friendship with Stitch helps her overcome the death of her parents. Stitch is a complicated scientific experiment that causes the kind of trouble only a motherless child could love. Their friendship teaches Stitch empathy, compassion, and essentially tames the beast with her unwavering dedication and love.
Similarly, in Frozen, Elsa runs off when she cannot control her superpowers. Her sister, Anna, spends the movie trying to hunt down Elsa and help her overcome her fear of using her cryokinetic powers. Elsa accidentally freezes Anna’s heart, and only an act of true love can prevent Anna from freezing sold. Anna sacrifices herself by being a human shield when Elsa is threatened and thereby breaks the spell. This is a case where true love doesn’t have to be romantic, but instead the unwavering love of best-friendship/sisterhood.
And speaking of sisterhood, the bonds exhibited by groups of friends shouldn’t be forgotten, such as in the movies Stand By Me, Now and Then, and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Stand By Me is about a group of prepubescent boys go on a journey to find a missing young boy so they can become local heroes. Along the way, they’re confronted with a series of obstacles, which help them to discover who they are. When they do find the body of the missing kid, they have to confront a local bully who they scare with a gun. After that, they grow apart, as sometimes friends do, but who they become is shaped by the things they went through.
Now and Then reflects on the friendship of four women who are friends in childhood and reunite as adults. When they see each other, they flashback to 1970 when they were preteen girls. They’re trying to save money to buy a treehouse that ultimately helps them on their own journey of self-discovery, which leads to them growing up and apart. They come together 20 years later to be there when one of them has her first child. It makes them reassess their friendship and vow, once again, to be there for each other.
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is a sort of combination of the prior films. In it, four friends find a pair of pants that seem to fit them all perfectly despite their different shapes and sizes before they all split up for summer vacation. The pants helps each of the girls discover a part of themselves that helps them evolve and believe in themselves. But also, their friendship outside the pants is what really drives the plot. Their friendship is the primary driving force of the pants, and by sharing them they become closer than ever, while learning the enduring importance of being there for each other.
And then there are oddball friendships that exemplify the peculiarities of being different like Harold & Maude, Witches of Eastwick, and Ghost World. In Harold & Maude, the title characters fall in love with each other and life thanks to their outsider approach. Harold is a teen and Maude is 79. Maude gets Harold to open up about his past and why he’s obsessed with death and in the process inspires him to really live. Harold decides to marry Maude on her 80th birthday. During their reception, Maude reveals she has taken an overdose of sleeping pills. Harold rushes her to the hospital, but she cannot be saved. The movie ends with Harold letting the hearse he drives speed off a cliff as he watches, as though he’s saying goodbye to his past and embracing a new future inspired by Maude.
Witches of Eastwick has three single female friends, come together and manifest a version of the devil as their shared lover. At first, things are delightful, but when their lover begins to use his powers for evil the three friends become concerned… and then they each discover they’re pregnant. So they perform a ritual to rid the world of their lover, coming together as one, they banish him and raise their children, who are also siblings, together. Proving the bonds of friendship are sometimes the only real family you need.
In Ghost World, the friendship between Enid and Rebecca is tested when Enid becomes obsessed with an older loner named Seymour. Enid ends up sleeping with Seymour and regrets it. She tries to get a job so she can move in with Rebecca, but she gets fired immediately and she and Rebecca drift further apart. With the collapse of her world, Enid decides to venture off onto an out of service bus and into a new city and new life. Sometimes, friendships don’t last forever, but they do inspire and change us so that we can evolve into who we need to become. In this way, Harold & Maude and Ghost World bring up the complicated part of growing and changing and how even though people drift apart, they’re a lasting part of who you become.
Friendship is the kind of love that people oftentimes take for granted because so much of who we are is invested in finding a lover. This Valentine’s Day, don’t sacrifice the people who are truly there for you. Check out one of these films with them and reestablish the unbreakable bonds that these films enforce.
Sabrina Cognata is an award-winning writer, producer and storyteller. During a decade long meltdown, she burned her life to the ground and revamped it as often as Madonna. Sabrina has written or produced for HuffPost Live, CBS Radio, TMZ and XO Jane, and she’s currently producing a syndicated news show for FOX television while tirelessly fighting the patriarchy Every. Damn. Day.