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How the Buddy Comedy Continues to Enamor Audiences

Jourdan Aldredge

From blockbusters like Thor: Ragnarok to classics from Laurel and Hardy, the buddy comedy continues to win over viewers.

Cover image via Marvel Studios.

As far as film genres go, the buddy comedy, which is almost as old as the medium itself, has consistently entertained audiences as a straightforward and fun way to examine friendships and bonding.

With their beginnings in American cinema, comedic duos like Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello were early definers of the genre’s success with a long string of consecutive hits. Through the decades, other partners began to emerge with a consistent theme of male-male friendships (like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope or Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis).

However, since the 1970s, the buddy comedy has gone beyond straight genre formula by incorporating elements of road movies, action films, and diverse pairings with films like Silver Streak (Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder), Rush Hour (Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker) and Thelma & Louise (Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon)

Now, with classic buddy comedy elements consistently making their way into major blockbusters like Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy, let’s look at the elements of the buddy comedy — and how you can incorporate them into your projects.

Different Backgrounds, Different Perspectives

How the Buddy Comedy Continues to Enamor Audiences — Martin and Candy
Image via Paramount Pictures.

First and foremost, the key element to any buddy comedy is the difference between the two main characters. And not just slightly different — polar opposites. Think Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles or Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black.

These character differences help create humor, dialogue, conflict, and ultimate resolution. Their character flaws should complement each other’s to help each character overcome, grow, and change for the better by the film’s conclusion.

Shared Journeys

How the Buddy Comedy Continues to Enamor Audiences — Easy Rider
Image via Sony Pictures.

While travel was not originally an element of the buddy comedy, over the years, the genre has closely tied itself with the road film genre. Some notable examples include Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider or David Spade and Chris Farley in Tommy Boy. Road films are a great vehicle (ha) for tying your two characters and forcing them to reconcile their differences.

But a journey doesn’t always have to be on a literal road. Thor and The Hulk in Ragnarok find themselves on a journey together when trapped in the same place, and classic examples like Shawshank Redemption (Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman) or Die Hard (Bruce Willis and Reginald VelJohnson) find creative ways to share journeys while trapped together.

Love Triangle Tribulations

How the Buddy Comedy Continues to Enamor Audiences — Trading Places
Image via Paramount Pictures.

If you’re working on a mainstream film project, regardless of genre, you pretty much have to include a love story. This creates problems in the buddy comedy genre that filmmakers have addressed in a few different ways. The most obvious is to create a love triangle between the three main characters.

The new addition to what is supposed to be a straightforward buddy relationship can cause major strife (as is the case between Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels in Dumb and Dumber), or it can be a major plot device to bring the buddies together (as with Jamie Lee Curtis’s character in Trading Places with Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy).

Creating an Unbreakable Bond

How the Buddy Comedy Continues to Enamor Audiences — Thelma and Louise
Image via MGM Studios.

At the end of your buddy comedy, the final goal is to bring the two characters back together to show how they’ve changed together — and in the process formed an unbreakable bond. (Picture the storybook endings to Shrek and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.)

However, as buddy comedy elements make their way into other genres, denying audiences of what they want to see can be a powerful reversal of expectations and create some heartfelt and memorable endings — as is the case in Midnight Cowboy and Dog Day Afternoon).

If you’re interested in reading more about genre filmmaking tips and tricks, check out some of these articles.

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