The lot of popular American comedies over the last half-decade or so is comprised largely of — pardon the awful word — Bromances. Superbad, Step Brothers, Pineapple Express, The Harold and Kumar franchise, Role Models, I Love You, Man, The Other Guys, even this weekend’s human-stuffed animal friendship fantasy, Ted. It’s a lengthy list of films that don’t quite explore but certainly celebrate male friendship while loudly pronouncing that their characters should never be mistaken for — gasp — homosexual. All of them follow the same basic structure: a second act break where the movie pals fall out but patch things up in time to take on the final obstacles of the third act which in turn galvanizes and reaffirms their kinship. Buds Forever. The End.
These films are generally long on the easier stuff, putting the spotlight on the play of how hetero-male friendships thrive, but rarely show how they end. But perhaps the most sensitive comedic portrayal of heterosexual male romance is a picture that is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month, the oft-forgotten Withnail and I. For those unfamiliar, this little English cult classic — Brits of a certain age know the phrase “I’m making time!” as well as Americans know “Eat my shorts!” — is about unemployed actor roommates, Withnail and Peter Marwood (the “I”), living in heroic filth in Camden Town, London. The acting is terrific, and Richard E. Grant, a teetotaler, gives a remarkably well-observed performance as the alcoholic Withnail, embodying grandiosity (Do you have any idea who I intend to be?) that is, of course, all show. When the friends seek decompression in a dreadfully planned holiday to the countryside cottage belonging to Withnail’s Uncle Monty, the horrid weather and lack of provisions immediately test their relationship. As the weekend progresses Withnail proves to be an unrepentantly ungrateful, unsupportive, and pretty much lethal person to be around. Uncle Monty shows up unannounced and is more than a little amorously forward with Marwood. “I mean to have you even if it must be burglary!” Monty cries, and it’s revealed that Withnail procured the cottage only by telling Monty that Marwood was gay and available.