Every generation of women has a beloved set of fictional BFFs. The Sex and the City ladies come to mind nowadays, but they're part of a long history of female friend groups through the years. These gaggles of girls are always neatly divided, perfectly balanced, with each character playing her role consistently, appropriately, and predictably, for that is the joy of Hollywood.
In real life, we're not sure if this trope exists. Does anyone really have such a tidily arranged group of friends? Yet, on screen, in both television and movies, the friends seem pulled from a set of personality types, carefully selected to maximize chemistry, hilarity, and tear-jerkiness. That's not to say they aren't nuanced characters with unique stories to tell, but some of our favorites in the last two decades feel drawn from a basic sketch provided as inspiration across genres and media.
Photo: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.
One could certainly make the argument that this all began with Jane Austen — after all, her explorations of female characters were some of the most in-depth around at the time. Though the ladies of Sense and Sensibility are sisters, their opposing personalities (both in the books and in the film adaptation) lay the groundwork in many ways for the titular practical versus whimsical duo. It's also a standard relationship type that crops up a lot in fictional romantic pairings — i.e. Ally and Noah from The Notebook — but we love it even more in a platonic setting. In Sense and Sensibility, as in all the works we're looking at here, opposing forces eventually result in a compromise that benefits the characters, ultimately reigning in some of their more extreme traits.
Photo: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
Since Clueless is loosely based on Emma, another Austen classic, it's no surprise that we see the influence of her well-written types appear in the '90s chick flick. Though Cher Horowitz doesn't share Marianne's dark drama, she is the flighty, wickedly clever, theatrically-minded of the group. Dionne is her rock and the one who grounds her, as is Elinor Dashwood. And then, there's Tai.
Like Harriet Smith in Emma, Tai is a good person but not a particularly strong one. Overcome by the draw of Cher's glittering popularity, she loses herself. As you can probably guess, that sounds pretty familiar...
Photo: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
Contextually speaking, both Tai and Cady Heron are cut more or less from the same cloth. Both are outsiders to a world of aristocratic (literally or figuratively) privilege, both abandon what they once thought of as goals to aspire towards in favor of the standards of others. The difference, of course, is that Tai was simply too susceptible to Cher's pushing and preening, whereas Cady was affected in a more indirect way and ultimately took the actions she did of her own accord.
But, like in Sense and Sensibility, Cady, Regina, and Janis pulled each other more towards a happy medium. Remember that final scene? Can you say kumbaya?
Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.
In Sense and Sensibility, Clueless, and Mean Girls, the interpersonal tension is basically a matter of stronger, more emotional characters battling against meeker ones. That pairing is present in many, many fictional relationships beyond the aforementioned three. But, another common archetype in these female friend groups is a bit harder to name. You could call her a career girl, though we don't exactly love that term. You could say she's bossy or forceful, even pretentious, but you love her for it. The quintessential example is Miranda from Sex and the City, although we'd argue that she really got her start on TV in the form of Maxine on Living Single. They're both lawyers, for a start — have you noticed how there's always a bossy attorney in any '90s TV show? It really was the golden decade for lawyer jokes. Second, they're both dominant women who refuse to be chided into traditional ideas of femininity. And, they're never as strong as their facade (remember Maxine's tattoo?).
On Sex and the City, Carrie is the closest thing to the flighty Marianne/Cher archetype. She's certainly all over the place, and has a tendency to make even the tiniest drama into a full-blown apocalyptic scenario. Charlotte plays the role of the "new girl" like Tai and Cady in a lot of ways, though plot-wise, she doesn't exactly fit the bill.
So, what do we make of brazen, emboldened, empowered Samantha?
Her archetype is probably best viewed as the one who challenges the rest of the group to think bigger. While she's not usually the main character, she is a major force that drives the plot forward, or at least the ideas it presents, if not the plot itself. The Mirandas and Maxines of the world might think themselves on the cutting edge of progress, but many times, it's the Samantha types who are actually living it. Another great example of the challenger archetype is Fairuza Balk's truly bonkers character in The Craft. She's a much more evil version, for sure, but she's the one whose commitment to a way of life is most potent and powerful. If you're looking for fellow sexpots, though, Dolly Parton's amazing character in 9 to 5 is a sweeter, but no less fascinating, take on the challenger (while Lily Tomlin plays a non-lawyer version of Maxine and Miranda).
There are so many more amazing characters we could go on discussing, and so many more interesting archetypes and sub-archetypes dictating the way women are represented — particularly in media aimed towards women. But, we're already threatening to step into TL;DR territory, so let's take this bad boy to the comments. Who are your favorite fictional female friends, and how do they fit into these tropes and improve upon them? Or, do they defy them completely, therefore rendering this post crazy and wrong? You tell us. Let's discuss.