The Best Friend archetype was booming in 90’s romantic comedies. This hero is your Tom Hanks, your Hugh Grant, your Mr. Bingley. The Best Friend may not draw a crowd like the Bad Boy or the Chief, but he’s there when the chips are down, often using his likability and cool-head to negotiate a peace or deal with an emotional crisis.
The Best Friend is seen as a gentleman. He’s easy to get along with, supportive and brings a sense of stability to his relationships. He’s comfortable and confident with who he is, and patient enough to draw out the best in others. The Best Friend is a true team player and everyone can count on him to help.
Unfortunately that also means The Best Friend has trouble standing out in the crowd and asserting himself. He can be too quick to sacrifice what he wants to avoid confrontation.
“The Best Friend is there to lend a hand, but sometimes fails to realize that he needs to take the lead. This proclivity can cause him to be overlooked in love and in the workplace…An emotional earthquake is needed to dislodge this man from his desire to keep the peace.” *
Joe Fox (You’ve Got Mail)
While a chain of corporate bookstores fighting over independent bookstores seems as outdated as using AOL Mail, Joe Fox remains a classic example of the Best Friend archetype—largely due to Tom Hanks softening a character that could have easily been a jerk.
Joe is more assertive than the average Best Friend. He has to be to succeed in his business and expand his family’s chain of bookstores (R.I.P. Borders.) In the boardroom, he leverages his confidence and level-headedness. But in his personal life, he can’t seem to find a good way to break things off with his intense girlfriend Patricia or make his true feelings known.
Joe clashes with Kathleen over business. He doesn’t see why she’s trying to draw out this messy conflict and fight the inevitable. But even though they’re rivals, he’s the one bringing Kathleen soup when she’s sick and pushing her to stand up to people treating her poorly, even if it’s an anonymous pen-pal. As “NY152” online, Joe advises Kathleen about business decisions, listens to her rave about Pride and Prejudice, and supports her quietly from the other side of the screen.
Just think of how long Joe takes to ‘fess up to Kathleen when he realizes that she’s ShopGirl. If he were a Charmer, perhaps he’d see his dual-role as a game to be won. If he were a Chief, he would have dealt with this situation instantly.
But as a Best Friend, he keeps it a secret to avoid conflict. He’s in competition with himself throughout the movie and still has trouble taking the lead to express his interest.
Nick Young (Crazy Rich Asians)
Nick is one of the world’s most eligible bachelors and basically Singaporean royalty. He’s insanely rich, good-looking and well loved by everyone. He’s perfectly happy to be a history professor that shares most of his dessert with his girlfriend (also a brilliant professor) Rachel.
The only reason he’s even traveling back home is to be moral support for his friend, Colin, who’s about to be married.
Nick’s kindness and sense of humor quickly gained the favor of his grandmother, securing himself as the heir to the incredible Young family fortune. Despite being raised in wealth, Nick remains empathetic and emotionally grounded. He often acts as a buffer and calming negotiator between his dysfunctional relatives.
Even among his friends, Nick acts as a stabilizer. He’s the one standing up for his childhood friend Colin when his more outrageous friend Bernard goes overboard with the bachelor party. He sticks by his cousin Astrid, listening without judgment, when she confesses how unhappy she is in her marriage.
Nick puts his comfort and happiness second to those around him. He knows he has a role to play and he’s used to finding win-win scenarios. He constantly tries to create compromise, or distance, between his mother, the powerful Eleanor, and Rachel.
It’s only when he’s in danger of losing his almost-fiancée forever that he takes a firm stand against his family and refuses to negotiate anymore.
Harry Burns (When Harry Met Sally)
Billy Crystal plays another peak Best Friend in this classic romantic comedy.
Harry is, well, Harry.
He never tries to be anyone else and doesn’t expect anyone to change for him, either. He’s low-maintenance. He takes things as they are with a healthy sense of humor and is willing to talk about anything, like whether men and women can be friends without sex getting in the way.
Harry puts up with a lot of Sally’s quirks (neurotic behavior, really) like how she orders foods with a million substitutions or mails letters individually just in case. He may be confused at her way of life, but he takes it in stride. He’s also always “on-call” for his friends. He’s the shoulder to cry on and the one to cheer a friend up with bad dance moves or a trip to Sharper Image (again, R.I.P.) for karaoke.
Harry isn’t particularly ambitious in his career, nor is he someone who stands out in a crowd. He’s an average guy in a crazy city with strange friends, and he has fun with that.
With Billy Crystal and Tom Hanks playing the Best Friend hero in these movies, it should be no surprise that Meg Ryan took on the role of a quintessential Spunky Kid in her day.
* This series is based on The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes & Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders.