If three means a trend, the trend is on this summer. “No Strings Attached” (notable for a tagline -- “Can sex friends stay best friends?” -- so hilariously awful, a writer attempted to meme it), “Friends with Benefits,” and the forthcoming “One Day” examine what happens when a friendship turns to (or starts with) sex, then crosses over to the l-word (no, Scott Pilgrim, not “lesbians”).
But that’s just one take on the endlessly popular friendship-to-love narrative. A quick glance at the last thirty years in world cinema reflects the popularity and flexibility of this trope among screenwriters: “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “Delicatessen,” “The Crying Game,” “Reality Bites,” “In the Mood for Love,” “Far from Heaven.” (Not to mention, prime-time television practically wouldn’t exist without it.)
So, when assembling this list of adaptations about romantic friendship, we set some boundaries (how meta!) to help us narrow down the options. No combatants-turned-friends-turned-lovers (i.e., “Much Ado About Nothing”). No friendships based on instant, possibly unrequited attraction (i.e., “Great Expectations,” “Roxanne”). Just pure friendship blossoming into romance.
Here's a range of examples:
“Little Women” (1933, 1949, 1994)
Louisa May Alcott’s most famous novel features the classic relationship of independent heroine Jo and literal boy-next-door Laurie. Their friendship evolves from jolly comradeship to Laurie’s longing for more, leading to Jo’s conflicted rejection of his proposal. Their strong bond recovers, but most readers are left unsatisfied by their romantic fates. (Amy? Really, Laurie?) None of the three films gets the pairing quite right; arguably, the best Jo was 1949’s June Allyson and the best Laurie was 1994’s Christian Bale.
“The Dark Angel” (1935)
Directed by Sidney A. Franklin, this version of Guy Bolton’s play focuses on a wartime love triangle between childhood friends Alan, Kitty, and Gerald. When Kitty and Alan get engaged during the latter’s army leave, Gerald gives his blessing, despite his own love for Kitty. But a misunderstanding prevents the marriage and divides the friends, with tragic results. Co-adapted by Lillian Hellman, the film stars Fredric March, Merle Oberon (who received an Oscar nomination), and Herbert Marshall.
“Robin Hood” (1973)
This interpretation of the English folk legend centers on a love story between childhood friends, a plot also in Disney adaptations “Bambi” and “The Lion King” (based on Hamlet). A rooster minstrel guides us through the adventures of outlaw Robin Hood (an anthropomorphic fox) as he robs the rich to provide for the poor of Nottingham and battles the evil Prince John (a lion). The catalyst for his exploits is his friend and first love Maid Marian (also a fox), with whom he reunites in a surprisingly tender romance.
Several of Jane Austen’s novels concern romantic friendships (namely Emma), but we’ll pick Whit Stillman’s free adaptation of Mansfield Park. Set in the dying, old-money world of debutante balls, this light comedy follows preppy New York teenagers — members of the “urban haute bourgeoisie” — over the holidays. Seamed with nostalgic irony that undercuts its characters, the film’s sympathies lie with gentle Audrey Rouget (Carolyn Farina), who gradually falls for newcomer Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) in one of cinema’s most understated teenage romances.
“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000)
Based on the eponymous fourth book of Wang Dulu’s Crane Iron Pentalogy, Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning adaptation popularized the tradition of wuxia (stories of martial chivalry) for the West. Audiences thrilled to the film’s stunning aerial combat, but Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh performed their own high-wire act with their poignant portrayal of aging warriors Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien. Drawn together by sorrow and duty, the longtime friends share a love no less charged for its unspoken nature, ending in a moment of catharsis that movingly illustrates the conflict between honor and desire.
“My Summer of Love” (2004)
Pawel Pawlikowski’s film pares down Helen Cross’s novel to its intense relationship between two girls: the working-class Mona (Natalie Press) and boarding-school troublemaker Tamsin (Emily Blunt). What begins as camaraderie born of mutual boredom crosses over into romantic experimentation heightened by class and gender tensions. Scored by electropop duo Goldfrapp, the film’s dreamy lyricism evokes the delicacy of summer love between lonely teenagers, setting up its dramatic conclusion.
“Slumdog Millionaire” (2008)
Danny Boyle’s multiple Oscar winner adapted Vikas Swarup’s Q&A. While the “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” framing story provides narrative suspense, the film’s heart is Dev Patel’s shyly charming Jamal’s enduring loyalty to and, eventually, love for his childhood friend Latika (Freida Pinto), which will prove their salvation. The film’s gorgeous colors and textures may exoticize India, but it works for what is essentially a fairy-tale of transformative romance and wish fulfillment.
This list only scratches the surface, so feel free to share your favorite friends-turned-lovers stories below.