Artwork by Charlotte Southall
Growing up I’ve always identified and aspired to the ‘best friend.’ While the protagonist of most high school films are suffering some huge moral dilemma or ascending to popularity, the ‘sidekick’ is a rock. They know who they are and always seem to deliver witty commentary. Despite nothing in particular happening to them in the course of the film, I’m always more drawn to them as characters. They’re just cooler… Here’s a list of some (excluding many) of the greatest girl pals. We can learn from them all.
PASH – Whip It
I’m totally in love with Alia Shawkat. Her character Pash in Drew Barrymore’s Whip It could be considered pretty normal (as most sidekick’s are). She conquers and is excited by teen rites of passage but is sturdy in her determination to get out of the small Texan town she lives in. She is intelligent and sarcastic and her relationship with Birdman is really funny. Among other things, when I watch Whip It, I’m over come with desire. I want a piglet apron and Alia Shawkat in my life.
PENNY PINGLETON – Hairspray
The sub-plot of Penny’s rise to rebellion is one I will never grow tired of. With evangelical Alison Janney as her mother, Penny’s story parallels the new generation’s break away from tradition in to a more liberal world of the sixties. Having appeared in She’s The Man the year before, Amanda Bynes was probably at the peak of her more mature career and she is wonderful in this role. Penny is loyal and supportive and her sub-plot provides huge entertainment.
DIONNE – Clueless
‘She’s my friend because we both know what it’s like to have people jealous of us.’ Dionne and Cher are the greatest duo in my opinion. They are totally there for each other, in whatever sense that means to Beverly Hills high schoolers. Dionne has the greatest outfits (dare I say, better than the protagonists?) and is genuinely lovely. Despite her bluntness, she is honest and caring. We all need to be or have or know a Dionne (and a Cher. And a Murray. And a Tai. And a Christian…Man, I love Clueless).
LEAH – Juno
Olivia Thirlby has such wit and charm. Jason Reitman’s Juno provides an assortment of really quirky humorous characters and Leah is no exception. Her responses and confident sarcasm are admirable and her supportive relationship with main gal, Ellen Page, is touching. She’s the epitome of the cool and careless best friend.
JANIS – Mean Girls
Janis is so CLEARLY the coolest character in Mean Girls. She is uncompromisingly herself and is completely refreshing. Her character’s ironic, intelligent backlash of the mundane hierarchy of high school is a joy to behold. Despite her forceful opinions, she is a really supportive, loyal pal. In a way, she is forced in to the ‘sidekick’ role due to the unselfish presentation of herself. Janis is interesting; she has a backstory, she has skills and humour. The only reason behind her non protagonist persona is because of her self assuredness. Teen films seem to track the faltering or gaining of accepting oneself, and of course, Lizzy Caplan (dream girl) wouldn’t comply.
In a sense, that is what distinguishes a sidekick character from a main character. All these girls are tough. Most from the beginning. By not being the central role (or subject of male desire, as most female roles seem to be), it is debatable that they have more personality; they have had to develop a moral compass, a humour and a sturdiness to provide for the film’s protagonist. All great things.
By Zoe Brennan
Zoe Brennan lives in Bristol. She would do anything for curly hair and loves Phillip Seymour Hoffman with all her heart. She spends lots of time at the theatre, reading, drawing and going to the cinema. Her favourite film genres include police comedies and teen witch films. She tweets quite unincredibley @zoebrennanhi