10 of the best friendship films that capture the essence of soul mates on the road
One of the finest elements of travel is its ability to rekindle old friendships, and cement unexpected new ones.
Yet rare is the director who decides to detail this subtle alchemy.
It’s far easier to place wanderlust within the familiar confines of romance (think Brief Encounter or Out Of Africa) than it is to explore it via a lens of friendship.
There are, however, a golden handful of films that do exactly that. These movie gems bring to life that kindred spirit spark that comes from an adventure shared:
Thelma & Louise
The journey: on the road to Mexico, through Arkansas and the Grand Canyon
Road trip motto: “You’ve always been crazy, this is just the first chance you’ve had to express yourself”
A fishing trip goes rapidly off-kilter when old friends Thelma and Louis cross paths with a rapist at a bar, setting into a chain a series of events that sees them hit the road on the run from the law. Like all the best road trips, this gleeful rampage through the hazy desert terrain is not without tension – especially when an astonishingly young Brad Pitt enters the scene. But ultimately, the cult classic is a searing homage to freedom and reinvention. And how adventure with a partner-in-crime (literally) can help you unshackle from a humdrum life.
The Motorcycle Diaries
The journey: From Brazil to Peru, through the vast landscapes of South America
Road trip motto: “We understood that our vocation, our true vocation, was to move for eternity along the roads and seas of the world”
The Motorcycle Diaries brings to life Che Guevara’s memoirs of a life-changing journey across South America with his friend Alberto Granado in his youth. Their joyful and, at times, harrowing trip lays the foundations for Che’s revolutionary calling, as the two young men come face-to-face with a deeply divided world. Social injustice and poverty are woven into the fabric of the two friends’ road trip, but so too is a rapturous appreciation for being alive. Set against a glorious tapestry of South American scenery, it’s a rallying cry to the power of the ties that bind us.
The Wizard Of Oz
The journey: Along the Yellow Brick Road to Emerald City
Road trip motto: “If we walk far enough we shall sometime come to someplace”
Dorothy and Toto certainly aren’t in Kansas anymore, as an infamous tornado spirits them away to the land of Oz. But being ripped apart from their comfort zone teaches them a powerful lesson about the Great Unknown: this is where the real treasures lie. As the pair venture along the Yellow Brick Road, they meet a scarecrow missing a brain, a tin man who needs a heart and a cowardly lion in search of courage. Together, this motley crew form unbreakable ties of friendship, showing the best kind of journeys are those that are shared.
The Darjeeling Limited
The journey: A soul-stirring trip through India on The Darjeeling Limited and beyond
Road trip motto: “You’re the two most important people in the world to me. I’ve never said that before, but it’s true”
Sometimes you need to get out of your daily life to see clearly what it is that you have. And so it is with three American brothers who attempt to reconnect with one another on a soul-searching foray to India, aboard the legendary Darjeeling Limited. As the train snakes its way through the ravishing landscapes of South Asia, old wounds resurface and rampant bickering ensues. Director Wes Anderson is really satirising the idea of enlightenment travel here. Yet the film still illustrates how being together on an adventure is perhaps the only way of forcing emotional resonance between those who have drifted apart – even with all the baggage that brings.
Stand By Me
The journey: A dangerous overnight hike through the woods of Oregon
Road trip motto: “I’m in the prime of my youth and I’ll only be young once”
Nostalgia abounds in this 1950s coming-of-age classic about four boys who leave behind their troubled lives in the name of shared adventure. The childhood pals (including a young River Phoenix) are searching for the body of a missing boy, but their overnight quest soon spirals into something much larger. Battling leech-filled swamps, ferocious dogs and deadly gang members, their loyalties are tested to the limits. As the trials of boyhood float to the surface, it’s clear that the raucous rapport shared by the four best friends is their greatest defence of all.
The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert
The journey: A feel-good foray across the Australian outback aboard a retro tour bus (“Priscilla”)
Road trip motto: “I hereby christen this budget Barbie camper Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”
“Ever since I was a lad I’ve had this dream … to travel to the centre of Australia and climb Kings Canyon – as a queen – in a full-length Gaultier sequin, heels and a tiara.” So says Adam Whitely (aka Felicia Jollygoodfellow), one of a flamboyant trio of characters who unite to traverse the Australian desert in this 90s road trip classic. Two drag performers and their transwoman friend embark on a riotous casino run to Alice Springs in a camper bus nicknamed Priscilla. Along the way, they encounter desert breakdowns and small-town bigotry. But this is a tale of adversity not so much overcome, as totally blitzed, in the face of spectacular costumes, pithy one-liners and an inspired combo of ABBA-meets-Gloria-Gaynor hits. What else could you want?
The journey: A freewheelin’ cruise from Mexico to LA and New Orleans
Road trip motto: “They’ll talk to ya and talk to ya and talk to ya about individual freedom. But they see a free individual, it’s gonna scare ’em”
A wild, freewheeling ethos forms the lifeblood of this howling homage to 60s counterculture. Two hippie bikers hit the road for a drug-fuelled romp through America’s small towns and arid desert landscapes, discovering a new movement of people along the way. The result is pure adventure poetry; an awakening of youth identity with a warm camaraderie at its very core. The shoestring film is awash with florid scenery, stretching from Death Valley to Colorado and New Orleans. But it’s the spirit of revolution and hope that really nails this road trip’s place in movie history, heralding in the start of the “New Hollywood” era.
The journey: A rock ‘n’ roll tour of 70s America
Road trip motto: “It’s all happening!”
Baby-faced High School reporter William is catapulted into the high-octane world of 70s rock, as he joins band of the moment Stillwater on their tour across the States. Cue: free love, rooftop drugs and the electric power of music; pure and real. Thanks to his cosseted past, William stays firmly grounded through the roller-coaster ride. But it’s his unlikely bond with Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), Stillwater’s glamorous “band aid”, that forms the real meat of the movie. Penny looks out for William amid the touring carnage, and William is there to pick up the pieces when the fragile Penny hits a wall.
The journey: a thrilling and perilous stopover with a secret island community
Road trip motto: “I carry a lot of scars”
Bored by the banality of the Khao San Road, Richard, Étienne and Françoise set out in search of a secret Thailand island utopia they’ve heard rumours about. In the Danny Boyle film adaptation, Richard ends up seducing Étienne’s girlfriend, Françoise, but in the original book, the trio’s bond is about friendship alone. Together, they reach the island community and settle into a paradisaical world; far away from real life. Only like all paradises, this one comes with a few major flaws. Slowly, the early ties that united these three travellers become a baseline for sanity in an increasingly anarchic and closed-off sphere.
Y Tu Mamá También
The journey: a languorous road trip to Boca del Cielo (“Heaven’s Mouth”) beach in Mexico
Road trip motto: “Life is like the surf, so give yourself away like the sea”
Two men on the cusp of adulthood are joined by the enigmatic and glamorous Luisa for a giddy journey of discovery. En-route to a mythical beach in Mexico, the older woman shares weed and stories of sexual exploits with her two smitten companions. This Oscar-nominated film got a lot of attention for its graphic sexuality, but deeper themes including friendship, emotional maturity and death are never far from the surface. Like all the best road trips, the one in Y Tu Mamá También is all about self-expression and spontaneity in a world that is all too keen to repress.
Images: Movie Stills DB