Portrayals of friendship and social circles in books, movies, or essays
January 27, 2008 9:01 PM   Subscribe

Can you recommend books, movies, or essays with good portrayals of friendships or people's social circles?

I'd like to read or watch things with realistic, complex examinations of friendships and people's social circles.

I've been thinking through my idea of friendship (is it too fairytale? is it too detached?), and about how to maintain friendships amidst life's complications (people moving, starting families, getting busy), and about how to make new friends. I've also been struggling with one friendship that is difficult for me right now.

I realized it would help to see how other people saw friendship and their social circle. Can you recommend things to read or watch? Books, short stories, movies, or nonfiction essays are all great.

To spark ideas, here are a few questions I'm interested in -- What does it mean to be friends? What are people's close friendships like? How do people stay friends over the years through ups and downs? What if one person moves away or friends grow apart? What about groups of friends, what are those like? How do other people look at their full circle of both acquaintances and friends? What is it like to be new in town and trying to build a new social network?
posted by salvia to Writing & Language (30 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Friends with money.
posted by AwkwardPause at 9:08 PM on January 27, 2008


My favorite is Boston Legal - Alan and Denny's friendship is pretty unusual, but it's a central theme of the show and really touching in parts, and it changes as the show progresses. Is it realistic? Probably not, but that kind of loyalty is something to aspire to in your closest friendships, I think.
posted by you're a kitty! at 9:09 PM on January 27, 2008


Malcolm Gladwell's Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg is an interesting one. I read it in this anthology, which was very enjoyable.
posted by ITheCosmos at 9:14 PM on January 27, 2008


Lace, by Shirley Conran? It's a bit of a trashy beach read, but it's a good portrayal of people from different walks of life becoming friends and staying that way through all kinds of shit for years and years.
posted by padraigin at 9:21 PM on January 27, 2008


High Fidelity. So-so movie. Okay book. But people swear by the portrayal of friendship (in the book at least.)
posted by wfrgms at 9:27 PM on January 27, 2008


It isn't obvious until the end, but The Station Agent is about making new friends after loss and change.
posted by nicwolff at 9:30 PM on January 27, 2008


I liked the portayal of female friendship in Walking and Talking. It addresses a lot of the issues in the OP's question, especially the ones about staying friends over the years and what happens when people's lives change.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:33 PM on January 27, 2008


I really liked The Friend That Got Away. It deals with only a portion of your questions, obviously, but the essays are by and large well written.
posted by metabrilliant at 9:41 PM on January 27, 2008


Truth and Beauty. Read Biography of a Face first. Both are quick and wonderful reads.

The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood. The Ya Ya's remained friends and accepted one another even though they were flawed.

A friend of mine sent me Talk Before Sleep. It's about friendship. I got through half and put it down. I should pick pick it up again.

The Dreamlife of Angels is a beautiful movie.
posted by LoriFLA at 10:27 PM on January 27, 2008


The Harry Potter series has good portrayals of friendships.
posted by divabat at 10:49 PM on January 27, 2008


Not quite what you're looking for but you can't go wrong with Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Here's a good, short podcast overview of the book.
posted by Kattullus at 11:04 PM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Crome Yellow and Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley are very involved stories about friends and society.
posted by Ohdemah at 12:12 AM on January 28, 2008


For my mother's generation, The Big Chill is the iconic friendship movie.
posted by thebrokedown at 12:14 AM on January 28, 2008


Steel Magnolias satisfies your request. The Lord of the Rings series also includes positive depictions of strong friendships and social groups.

Not a direct answer to your question, but I am skeptical of whether you can get a realistic depiction of friendship from fiction. Liberties are taken for the sake of the narrative. I would recommend podcasts such as Story Corps from NPR and OutFront by CBC. While neither of these are specifically about friendship, I have heard some really amazing stories on them. While both of these are edited and produced programs, they are by real people speaking for themselves. As well, the full recordings of the Story Corps conversations are archived by the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress.
posted by mausburger at 12:47 AM on January 28, 2008


Katullus, here's a more specific description of what I'm looking for. Mostly, I just want to read details of other people's social lives as fodder for understanding my own. Secondarily, I'd like to lose romanticized or childish ideas of friendship as being, for example, a tight-knit cluster of women who have known each other since childhood and get together once a week to laugh their way through bad jobs and bad marriages, while the friendship itself is an uncomplicated, positive, permanenent mainstay of their lives -- I'd like to develop a more realistic and complicated understanding of friendship (if I haven't already).

These are great suggestions so far. Please keep them coming!
posted by salvia at 12:53 AM on January 28, 2008


The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver.
posted by Daily Alice at 3:31 AM on January 28, 2008


I'd like to lose romanticized or childish ideas of friendship as being, for example, a tight-knit cluster of women who have known each other since childhood and get together once a week to laugh their way through bad jobs and bad marriages, while the friendship itself is an uncomplicated, positive, permanenent mainstay of their lives

I don't know that I find this particularly unrealistic. My fiancée and I (23/26 y.o.) are both close with many of our middle/high school friends even today. It's not to say that we see them once a week, or sometimes even once a month, and there are some who are further on the fringe than others. However, friendships can span longer than a decade and remain a lovely touchstone.

As for making new friends, when you've moved to a new town or city away from your old friends, that's been covered by other AskMes. I'm sorry to say that I can't think of any books right off the top of my head that fill your specific criteria.
posted by explosion at 7:44 AM on January 28, 2008


Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda is not only one of the best novels I've read in ages, but it alsoportrays a wonderfully unusual social circle. Can't recommend it highly enough.
posted by np312 at 8:04 AM on January 28, 2008


I thought the description of the friendship between Elizabeth Bennett and Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice was realistic. The most interesting thing to me was Elizabeth's reaction to Charlotte making a choice that she herself could never bring herself to make.
posted by peacheater at 8:51 AM on January 28, 2008


It tends to be occulted in the public mind because of his choregraphed gunfights, but almost every John Woo movies are about friendship and brotherhood.
Especially Last Hurrah for chivalry, A bullet in the head, and A Better Tomorow.
I'm serious those movies are really good at portraying complicated friendships, loyalty, betrayal and so on.
On a more high brow note Balzac's Lost Illusions is about a young poet moving to the city. He finds himself in two conflicting social circles and has to pick his side.
posted by SageLeVoid at 9:12 AM on January 28, 2008


The Basic Eight. It's about a group of high school students - all part of the same social circle and how it does and doesn't survive a terrible incident.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:13 AM on January 28, 2008


I'm surprised not to see Circle of Friends here (either the movie or the book). But it's been quite some time since I read it and saw the film, so maybe there's a reason it's not a good suggestion that I'm forgetting.
posted by amro at 9:33 AM on January 28, 2008


I thought the Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin was actually a really good portrayal of friendships - especially with regards to your last question about being "new in town."
posted by desjardins at 10:32 AM on January 28, 2008




Seconding The Big Chill. It does have a something of an idealized ending, but with a fair bit of complexity and difficult history along the way.

The Cider House Rules--the book, not the movie.
posted by hippugeek at 11:33 AM on January 28, 2008


I'll second Peter's Friends.
posted by MsMolly at 11:58 AM on January 28, 2008


You didn't ask for TV, but The Secret Life of Us is a fantastic portrayal of the relationships of a set of Australian twenty and thirty somethings.

This Life is similar, but British, and about young corporate types.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:03 PM on January 28, 2008


salvia wrote: I'd like to lose romanticized or childish ideas of friendship as being, for example, a tight-knit cluster of women who have known each other since childhood and get together once a week to laugh their way through bad jobs and bad marriages, while the friendship itself is an uncomplicated, positive, permanenent mainstay of their lives -- I'd like to develop a more realistic and complicated understanding of friendship (if I haven't already).

Echoing explosive, I'm not so sure this has to be unrealistic--I think it's possible to have close, positive, long-lasting friendships, although I agree that they are rarely uncomplicated.

I just finished sending an e-mail to a close friend I've known for twenty years. Our 20-year friendship includes a period of about two years when we didn't speak to each other--we had had a very serious fight, because I felt she was making some self-destructive choices, and she felt I was being bossy and judgmental. (We were both right.) Shortly afterward, I moved far away for a new job. However, our mutual friends kept us updated on each other, and eventually we were reunited at a get-together. The first thing my friend did when she saw me was give me a hug and say, "I've missed you so much." I was overwhelmed with emotion. I promise you I am not exaggerating when I say the friendship picked up right where it had left off, but the acrimony and hurt feelings of the fight had disappeared.

In our later discussions about that period of time when we weren't speaking to each other, my friend and I have discovered that even though each of us was hurt and angry, we were still concerned about the other's well-being and we really missed the friendship. It's weird to say, but I sometimes wonder if we are closer now because of that temporary rift.

Well, that was a bit of a novel. But I just wanted to provide a perspective that sometimes rough periods don't necessarily mean the friendship is over. I'm sorry you are having troubles with a friend right now, and I hope that the situation is resolved with as little hurt as possible.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:39 PM on January 28, 2008


Proust's In Search of Lost Time spends hundreds, if not thousands, of pages describing the social circles of the protagonists. Keep in mind it's a timesink and it isn't contemporary.
posted by ersatz at 2:00 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


explosive & hurdy gurdy girl, thank you for your more personal thoughts, and hurdy gurdy girl, I especially appreciate your (admirably succinct) "novel."

Just a clarification: I didn't mean to imply that having long-term friends is unrealistic. The unrealistic part would be "they meet in middle school, become BFF and live happily ever after!" I want to see the alternate ending where Thelma pursues her interest in justice by attending an East Coast law school but gets so busy that she doesn't return any of Louise's phone calls. And when she does call, she's distracted and just talks about her classes. Louise is hurt, but mostly just lonely. Should she take up rock climbing? Join the Rotary Club? So she tries attending the Women's Lawn & Garden Club and even this female bikers desert "bike in," but through it all, she can't quite stop wondering whether Thelma is going to move back when she graduates or move to DC with her fancy new lawyer friends, and how she'll ever find a friend like her again.

Which is why I really appreciate all these suggestions for books, movies, TV shows, and anything else that talks about the more complicated side of things. :) Thanks a lot to all of you for these many suggestions, which look great. I can't wait to check them out.
posted by salvia at 3:36 PM on January 28, 2008


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