*This post contains spoilers*
Herbert Ross’s Boys On The Side is not only a funny insight into the minds of women but also a fantastic display of female independence. The title itself indicates that the men in this film are not the centre piece, which during the time and even now is a rare occurrence in Hollywood. There is a famous test, the ‘Bechdel Test’ which is only passed if two women have a conversation within a film which is a topic other than one concerning men. It sounds simple enough, but a lot of films actually fail the test. Although the film does hold conversations about men and situations with men involved, the main plot focuses on the bond between the three women; Jane (Goldberg), Robin (Parker) and Holly (Barrymore). The men also constantly seem to be in the way of the women’s relationship; Nick physically tries to stop Holly from going with Jane and her new travel companion, Abe also places a restricted between Holly and her friends – literally, as she is behind bars due to his duty to ‘uphold the law’.
The story follows three women moving across country, all seeming to be running away from something. Perhaps, feminine expectation. Along the way they form a bond stronger than any romantic relation with a man. On this journey the women overcome sexual and racial boundaries, which is embodied greatly by Robin’s conservative mother, who dumbfounded upon hearing of Jane’s race and sexuality asks, “she’s a black lesbian?” as if astonished by who her daughter is involved with. However, through the course of the film Robin’s mother overcomes this prejudice and bonds with Jane through their love of her daughter, who is dying of the HIV virus.
Although the film is light hearted and funny through dilemmas such as ‘murder’, the end of the narrative is a tear jerker. Although we can find the accidental death of a drug dealing abusive boyfriend funny, what we can’t find humour in is the loss of a friend, especially in a setting of unspoken love between Jane and Robin which finally comes to light during Robin’s last days.
When Robin divulges to Jane that she once had a crush on a strawberry blonde, Jane omits that she too was once strawberry blonde, the heart-wrenching subtext here clearly being that Jane is in love with Robin.
Robin: It was me you loved wasn’t it?
Jane: Yeah… still.
Robin: I loved you too.
With their relationship ending on an emotional ‘duet’ of Roy Orbison’s You Got It, with Jane singing as Robin struggles to complete the song, it is clear that throughout their relationship they have completed one another. Their love is presented throughout the narrative as above sexual inclination. They aren’t two lesbians, but two women. That I find to be the most uplifting part of the film. Although the ending is difficult to watch it gave me a feeling of privilege, to be given an insight into these three women and their bond, even if it is just within the realm of fiction.