It’s Oscars time and yet again the most nominated movies have not much troubled the box office. Although Everything Everywhere All At Once (11 nominations), All Quiet On The Western Front (9) and The Banshees of Inisherin (9) made decent returns on small budgets, only Everything broke the $100m mark. The Fabelmans (7) and Tar (6) are also commercial flops. Of the top five nominated films, only Elvis (8) is a huge hit ($288m). You may actually have seen it.
I would review Austin Butler’s stellar performance, but I slept through half of Elvis’s 2hrs 39mins run-time. The same goes for All Quiet on the Western Front’s 2hr 23mins. The one film I sat through bolt upright, and defy anyone to sleep in, was The Banshees of Inisherin (1hr 54mins). Curiously, it’s the one where the least happens, a perfect metaphor for its subject matter: male friendships.
“Bromance” is a hugely under-explored topic, both by Hollywood and IRL (in real life). I had to google male friendship movies to produce a “best list” for this column: Easy Rider, The Shawshank Redemption and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are some of mine. My favourite is Intouchables, the 2011 French movie about a wealthy paraplegic and his ex-con carer. However, even that movie had several action scenes, whereas Banshees is almost entirely about tone, atmosphere, and what’s left unsaid. Just like male friendships.
Young girls agonise about who their best friend forever is from a very early age. Boys tend to hang in packs, relatively free from such angst. As they evolve into teenagers, I can attest as both a parent and teacher, those friendship issues dominate adolescent girls’ lives. Boys have a more binary approach: he’s a mate of mine, or he’s not. Is this nature or nurture? The divide starts so early in life that it must surely include both?
Later life compounds the friend issue: lonely men lack the emotional capacity to forge new friendships, or even maintain old ones. Excuse my sweeping generalisations, but there is truth in them. It’s largely workplace relationships that are so vital to men; often the only ones we ever forge – other than perhaps with our football, cycling, or golfing mates.
Banshees is about male friendship gone wrong, with no real explanation. It struck a chord. In our 30s, my closest childhood friend and “best man” suddenly exited my life with barely a wave. He too was from the stormy, mystical west coast of Ireland and I’ve been as confused as Colin Farrell’s character ever since. Why don’t men talk about things that matter? At funerals or weddings, it is sobering to witness the chasm between men who have retired and stand alone, shuffling their feet, and men who are still working and can banter with other men about, well, work.
As a male brought up in an emotionally intelligent, female-only household, I have many female friends, but I’m blessed by at least three decades-long male friendships, where we do talk about important things beyond Fulham FC: insecurities, vulnerabilities and worries included.
Too many men lack this essential element of a happy, fulfilled life: a real friend. It’s rare that this subject is explored. That’s why The Banshees of Inisherin is the most provocative and must-watch of the nominated films, whatever “the Academy” decides.