Always the Bridesmaid: Is There a Future for Cinema’s Gay Best Friend?

In the search for The Next Best Thing, gay best friends may finally be entering their Happiest Season. 
In the search for The Next Best Thing, gay best friends may finally be entering their Happiest Season

As My Best Friend’s Wedding turns 25, Emily Maskell looks at the problematic legacy, influential gear shifts and evolving future of rom-com cinema’s Gay Best Friend.

No one wants to be the supporting character, but for the gay best friend, it’s all they’ve ever known. Secondary to the ‘main character energy’ most of us are endlessly striving for, relegated to the bleachers, or out of focus in the back of the shot is where the gay best friend can often be found. It is fair to say that while the gay best friend is alive and well (some of them anyway—more on that, soon), their portrayal has been bolstered with a newfound self-awareness of late. But the stereotype remains a paltry offering of queer representation that is complicated and often contradictory, begging the ultimate question: is it time to shelve the trope of the gay best friend, or can the GBF be successfully reimagined? 

Just as June is the month in which LGBTQ+ folks are briefly given main character status—including by brands who insist on waving the rainbow flag—the gay best friend on film exists in a similar context: brief flashes of celebration in an ocean of straight-dominant cinematic narratives. Traditionally, the quintessential gay best friend is an accessory—think well-groomed handbag pooch—to the straight white woman. The character will give an arm and a leg to aid the aspirations of said protagonist, providing them with expert advice on any and every subject.

The GBF, after all, is an extension of the rom-com’s best, most underserved character of all: the long-suffering Best Friend, a pivotal genre sidekick who can be funnier but not better-looking that the lead; sassy but not scene-stealing; lucky in love but not too lucky; and they most definitely must have a different hair color (or no hair at all, if you’re Nigel in The Devil Wears Prada). The gay bestie’s advantage over their straight counterpart is that they are, presumably, absolutely no competition in the love stakes. 

Like any other rom-com best friend, what little we learn about the gay best friend is usually in direct relation to the central character to whom they are in service. Not deemed valuable enough to take the reins of the story, yet important enough to be by the lead’s side—how much of an investment in the gay experience do portrayals of the gay best friend really demonstrate?

Nigel (Stanley Tucci), best pal and mentor to Andy (Anne Hathaway) in The Devil Wears Prada (2006).
Nigel (Stanley Tucci), best pal and mentor to Andy (Anne Hathaway) in The Devil Wears Prada (2006).

The Woman in Red, Gene Wilder’s 1984 rom-com, sees an early mainstream depiction of the prototypical gay best friend in its most skin and bones state. Charles Grodin plays Buddy, an apt name for the supporting character who comes to the rescue of lousy protagonist Teddy (Wilder) after he’s kicked out by his wife for cheating. Even though Buddy does not state he is gay until later in the plot, he remains on the margins of the narrative and is saddled with the classic gay best friend responsibilities—dispensing supportive advice and leading a makeover sequence to help Teddy get his act together. 

While any morsel of queer representation was once treasured like pure gold, its shine often reflected a warped image of queerness, more a hollow caricature than any semblance of a thoughtful depiction. It may be heartening to see openly gay characters on screen, but Buddy lacks any real depth or interior life in a male-centric comedy that has aged awfully. Buddy is essentially the poster boy for the gay best friend that future portrayals build on, deconstruct and evolve.


George (Everett) is there for Jules (Julia Roberts) in her lowest moments—and Jules sure goes low.
George (Everett) is there for Jules (Julia Roberts) in her lowest moments—and Jules sure goes low.

This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of one of the most iconic gay best friends on the big screen: My Best Friend’s Wedding’s George Downes (Rupert Everett), the editor and bestie of food critic protagonist Jules (Julia Roberts). In P.J. Hogan’s 1997 film, Everett imbues George with warm charm and sensitivity. Everett came out publicly in 1989; it doesn’t seem outrageous to conclude that an out, gay man playing this gay best friend lent the character himself more complexity than the typical archetype. 

Indeed, as Scott Meslow reports in an excerpted chapter of his recent book From Hollywood with Love: The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of the Romantic Comedy: “[Screenwriters] Bass and Hogan’s rewrite of the original spec script—which was already intended to beef up George’s role in the story—was done with Everett’s voice in mind.” Crafting an outlier in the canon, Everett’s George marked a new era of queer portrayal and a turning point for the gay best friend character. From initially being a role with “literally two lines in the script” to becoming the Jules’ saving grace, George undeniably anchors the film as her non-romantic love.

Introduced at a fine dining establishment, George is immediately positioned as a sounding-board for Jules’ reflection on her relationship with Michael (Dermot Mulroney), the eponymous ‘best friend’. “He’s like you, only straight,” Jules tells George about Michael. George’s sexuality is established in this opening scene but, as the film unfolds, it’s not framed as the be-all and end-all of his identity. He has a distinct role in shaping the anti-rom-com’s narrative, not simply a supporting character dragged along for the ride.

Cheers to George, the real hero of My Best Friend’s Wedding. 
Cheers to George, the real hero of My Best Friend’s Wedding

My Best Friend’s Wedding kick-starts when Jules receives an invite to Michael’s wedding to Kimmy (Cameron Diaz), a woman she has never met. Like the hot mess she is, Jules sets off to Chicago with a scheme to sabotage the wedding, but upon arrival, is convinced to be the maid of honor and tries to end the wedding from the inside. With only days to convince Michael she should be the woman he marries, Jules makes the first of many desperate calls to George for advice. 

In many ways, George is Jules’ (much needed) conscience, listening to her increasingly extravagant methods to stop the wedding, and talking her back down to reality. He even flies in from New York to offer her a shoulder to cry on. “Do you really love him, or is this about winning?” George asks after gently wiping off Jules’ face mask. Everett plays George with a grounded sense of self and narrative-driving confidence, offering a refreshing—and long-overdue—take on the stereotypical gay best friend. In fact, George is the only character in the film who appears comfortable with himself and confident in the decisions he’s making.

Partway through, My Best Friend’s Wedding shuffles towards the territory of a gay character ‘playing straight’ when George is roped into pretending to be Jules’ fiancé. My Best Friend’s Wedding teeters on but never crosses the line of the gay best friend falling in love with and/or being rejected by the straight best friend. If you want nuance in these too-vast categories, seek out recent films from Levan Akin (And Then We Danced) and Xavier Dolan (Matthias & Maxime). 

And Then We Danced (2019): a better “gay best friend falls for straight bestie” narrative. 
And Then We Danced (2019): a better “gay best friend falls for straight bestie” narrative. 

So, no, this gay best friend doesn’t sacrifice himself to appease his heterosexual protagonist; George may be loyal to Jules but he remains as snappy and effervescent as ever. He’s refreshingly whole and complex as a person who, in this situation, steps into the spotlight as Jules’ savior. Rejecting the expectations of the gay best friend, George is so comfortable with himself that he can play this part with, rather than for, Jules.

While other films frame it as ludicrous for a gay man to pretend to be straight, My Best Friend’s Wedding laughs with George at Jules’ awkwardness and the ridiculousness of the situation. The ‘I Say a Little Prayer’ scene during dinner with Kimmy and Michael’s extended family exemplifies this: after George shares the dirty, fabricated details of how he and Jules got together, he breaks into song. It’s a scene that defines George’s unspoken deal with Jules: he’ll partake in her shenanigans but won’t sacrifice himself for it. Here, the gay best friend lets loose. Even though his actions might limit Jules’ success, the scene is a welcome diversion from the ride-or-die existence characters like George so often tolerate.

George came out on top in a scene originally filmed with John Corbett (test audiences hated it). 
George came out on top in a scene originally filmed with John Corbett (test audiences hated it). 

My Best Friend’s Wedding holds the gay best friend in caring regard, with George rightfully granted the film’s closing monologue as an orchestral version of ‘I Say a Little Prayer’ plays. After her plans to disrupt the wedding fall apart, Jules, in her lavender bridesmaid’s dress, answers her phone. It’s George, telling her there’s a man in the room for her. She’s instantly up on her feet, searching the dancefloor... for George, of course. 

“Although you quite correctly sense that he is… gay… like most devastatingly handsome single men of his age are, you think: what the hell. Life goes on,” George tells Jules. “Maybe there won’t be marriage, maybe there won’t be sex, but by God, there’ll be dancing.” My Best Friend’s Wedding ends with George being Jules’ actual best friend, who happens also to be gay. Time and again, George has been there for Jules—and she’s finally realized how lucky she is to have him. As one astute Letterboxd member, Ben Rendich, notes: there are plenty of other leading ladies who could have used a gay best friend like George.

April Wheeler (Kate Winslet) sure could have used a gay best friend in Revolutionary Road (2008).
April Wheeler (Kate Winslet) sure could have used a gay best friend in Revolutionary Road (2008).

For all its joyous, openly-queer nuance, My Best Friend’s Wedding’s gay best friend doesn’t completely swerve convention. When the layers are peeled away, George is a gay supporting character in service to a straight protagonist; on more than one occasion, he’s an oracle for Jules, dropping everything to be by her side. Like the gay best friends that have come before him, most of what we learn about George is in relation to Jules. 

Even with his distinct personality and impeccable choice of musical interlude, George’s character is undeniably an extension of Jules’ narrative. A limp wrist punctuating his comments and squealing with Kimmy over wedding planning insinuates the stereotyped gay femininity that was plentiful in the depiction of the stock gay best friend. Ultimately, though, Everett’s meaningful portrayal grants George a functional and unforgettable place in My Best Friend’s Wedding that prevents him from being the butt of the joke or sidelined into non-existence. In fact, he is the hero. 


The Academy loved Greg Kinnear’s trauma-inflicted gay best friend role in As Good As It Gets (1997). The gays themselves? Not so much. 
The Academy loved Greg Kinnear’s trauma-inflicted gay best friend role in As Good As It Gets (1997). The gays themselves? Not so much. 

The Nineties featured a multitude of gay best friends and, in retrospect, George has to be one of the kindest. In 1997, the same year as My Best Friend Wedding’s release, George was joined by Simon, a gay artist in As Good As It Gets, a role that earned Greg Kinnear an Oscar nomination. While that mainstream acknowledgement may have been celebrated, the portrayal of Simon left a lot to be desired.

As Good As It Gets falls back on a reductive depiction that uses gay trauma as fodder for the heterosexual protagonist’s growth. Simon is subjected to emotional torment and remains a one-dimensional character whose creation feels insultingly straightforward. He only exists to offer straight protagonist Melvin (Jack Nicholson) the chance to look after his dog when Simon is attacked and hospitalized. Simon is a pawn for the protagonist’s emotional development, but we miss out on any glimpse of his individual importance, even while his medical bills grow, his creative muse dissipates, and his apartment is sublet. 

If we think about the gay best friend trope as synonymous with LGBTQ+ characters being reduced to supporting roles, the distinction between a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ gay best friend is significant. While As Good As It Gets may feature a distinctly ‘bad’ portrayal of the gay best friend, at least Simon survives, rather than falling victim to the bury your gays trope.

This is the idea that LGBTQ+ characters are expendable and defined by their deaths. The gay best friend, on many occasions, becomes a sacrificial character, particularly when homosexuality is deemed an illicit trait to be punished. In more recent narratives, they’ve been killed off as victims suffering at the hands of a cruel world—serving the straight protagonist once more by lending them reasons to mourn and grow as a character (and, presumably find love as a result), as if death did not haunt the LGBTQ+ community enough.

Gareth (Simon Callow), Matthew (John Hannah) and Scarlett (Charlotte Coleman) at yet another of the Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994). 
Gareth (Simon Callow), Matthew (John Hannah) and Scarlett (Charlotte Coleman) at yet another of the Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994). 

When you subject a queer character to the double trope of “gay best friend” plus “bury your gays” you get the 1994 smash hit, Four Weddings and a Funeral. None of the four weddings of the film’s title belong to Gareth (Simon Callow) and Matthew (John Hannah)—for them, it is the funeral blues. Though Gareth may offer a nuanced portrait of a gay man whose relationship with a male partner is loving and healthy, his fate still resides six feet under. The film’s very best scene belongs to Matthew, as he recites the work of gay poet and “splendid bugger” W.H. Auden at Gareth’s service. (“Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.” Hand me all the tissues.) 

There is a cruelty to the cliché-ridden depiction of Four Weddings and a Funeral’s gay best friend that is hard to overlook. The gay best friend may be a sidekick (Reality Bites), they may struggle with singledom (Gayby), or be infused with scattered homophobia (The Next Best Thing—what was Everett doing here?!), but killing them off is a negligent narrative decision.

Gareth and Matthew exist almost solely to give Hugh Grant and pals a kick in the pants to sort out their love lives. Which, clearly, is the whole hetero point. Too little too late, the straight friends realize that the model of a good marriage was in front of them all along. (The film’s writer, Richard Curtis, was almost a repeat offender here: a deleted scene from Love, Actually involves the death of the partner of the unnamed lesbian headmistress. Including it would have added much-needed diversity; excluding it inadvertently saved Curtis from another bury-your-gays misstep.) 

When queer characters are thriving, straight characters are drawn to them like a moth to a flame. Gay best friends are presented with an enviable knowledge of relationships; they seem to have it all figured out. In comparison, their straight counterparts are chaotically navigating their love lives, which are often in complete disarray. This Hollywood assertion is a compliment if you squint, but the implication of the magical gay best friend appearing like an all-hours genie granting three wishes to the straights under-serves these characters and ignores the very real struggles of LGBTQ+ people.

Clueless (1995) presents a variation on the gay best friend: the gay best love interest.
Clueless (1995) presents a variation on the gay best friend: the gay best love interest.

Another trope prominent in the nineties is the gay love interest—a whole different beast in the canon of the gay best friend, adding a new flavor of movie spice to the relationship between the gay bestie and the straight protagonist. These portrayals drag the gay best friend into conversation with perceived stereotypes of masculinity. After initially being the object of desire for straight women, the gay best friend becomes yet another victim of toxic masculinity, unable to live up to the rigidly straight standard—but often winning the gay best friend consolation prize.

In Clueless, Cher (Alicia Silverstone) is infatuated with Christian (Justin Walker) but upon discovering he is gay, his value switches from love interest to confidant. The Object of My Affection takes this dynamic one step further: roommates Nina (Jennifer Aniston) and George (Paul Rudd) navigate their partnership despite the fact she already has a boyfriend and he is gay. This intricate dynamic results in the pair agreeing on parental solidarity for Nina’s unborn child, making for a unique interrogation of love in both romantic and platonic forms, where masculinity co-exists with queerness. 


Don’t worry Damian (Daniel Franzese), you can definitely sit with us, as you did here with Cady (Lindsay Lohan) in Mean Girls (2004).
Don’t worry Damian (Daniel Franzese), you can definitely sit with us, as you did here with Cady (Lindsay Lohan) in Mean Girls (2004).

At the turn of the century, a new era of the gay best friend  arrived. Some called it an evolution; others said it was a wave of gay characters simply recontextualized to our modern world. Teen movies such as Mean Girls and Easy A offer the young gay best friend a narrative in which they aren’t bullied or pushed to the social margins, while G.B.F. and Isn’t It Romantic broach the gay best friend with a pithy self-awareness. 

More recent titles, on the whole, offer a kinder portrayal that depicts the gay best friend with humanity and self-acceptance. Patrick in The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a nuanced example. He is in an unrequited relationship with a closeted school athlete but he’s never belittled for loving wholeheartedly. Patrick is a supportive figure in the central protagonist’s life, but that’s not all he exists for. He stretches the frame of the gay best friend and escapes convention; not defined by trauma, we get to see him be young and free in his expression of selfhood. His entire character arc is dealt with delicately and with engrossing substance. 

Oliver (Nico Santos), here with Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), was the self-described “rainbow sheep of the family” in Crazy Rich Asians (2018).
Oliver (Nico Santos), here with Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), was the self-described “rainbow sheep of the family” in Crazy Rich Asians (2018).

Additionally, the gay best friend canon has typically been heavily comprised of white, cis, gay men. That is not so much the case if we look at more current GBF depictions. ​​Crazy Rich Asians’ Oliver (Nico Santos), the self-described “rainbow sheep of the family,” diversifies the character trope. He’s unapologetically himself while traversing a conservative landscape, alongside being an ally to protagonist Rachel (Constance Wu).

Placing the gay best friend in Chinese culture asks different questions of the character; for instance, Oliver plays an essential role in both asserting the values of his family and welcoming Rachel as a perceived outsider in Singaporean high society. This shows the gay best friend trope can grow new roots, helping to interrogate belonging with a deeper consideration of sexuality, gender, and class.

Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) is one of a recent trend of lesbian gay best friends, seen here with her co-protagonist Molly in Booksmart (2019).
Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) is one of a recent trend of lesbian gay best friends, seen here with her co-protagonist Molly in Booksmart (2019).

That’s not to say all modern films are putting in the work to upgrade the role of the gay best friend. There are plenty of recent examples that lean on token portrayals, like The Perfect Date. These hollow characters seem to act only as a ploy for the inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters; without depth, they are bland and meaningless. The only saving grace of the horrendous He’s All That is lesbian best friend Nisha (Annie Jacob). Shoehorned into a tale of straight people who need better communication skills, Nisha and her love interest are disappointingly abandoned—she’s deserving of a considerate narrative of her own, not a footnote in 90 minutes of your life that you’ll never get back. 

As seen in that film, one innovation on the trope in modern cinema is the rise of the LBF. Booksmart, Unpregnant and Plan B depict the gay best friend as a lesbian, and in each of these she is, or near-enough-to, a co-lead. These films see the dimensions of the lesbian best friend introduce a new perspective on the bond of womanhood, offering a whole new take on the relationship between the best friend and their straight fellow protagonist. They are worthy successors to Patti, the LBF played by Sandra Oh in 2003’s Under the Tuscan Sun, whose needs were equally and empathetically met by straight protagonist Frances (Diane Lane).   

John (Dan Levy) is a refreshing example of a gay bestie serving as the guiding voice for their own gay best friend, Abby, in Happiest Season (2020).
John (Dan Levy) is a refreshing example of a gay bestie serving as the guiding voice for their own gay best friend, Abby, in Happiest Season (2020).

The gay best friend is also making an appearance in narratives that are innately queer. Happiest Season and Three Months see gay best friends beside gay protagonists. This reframing allows the supporting characters to exist with more depth and teases out the more relatable aspects of the LGBTQ+ experience. Happiest Season, for example, injects queer sensibilities into a classic rom-com plot where the GBF—in this case, Dan Levy as John—plays an essential role in supporting the gay protagonist as she visits her partner’s family for the first time. In this situation, the gay best friend’s function of providing relationship advice makes total sense. 

All hail the gay’s best friend, then, of whom there are many in Fire Island, Joel Kim Booster’s steamy new rewrite of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In it, Booster plays Noah, the protagonist and the quintessential gay best friend. Determined to get his BFF Howie laid, Noah puts his own vacation sex needs on hold, dispensing advice like poppers in service of Howie’s romantic pursuit. But friendship goes both ways—something the straight rom-coms always forget—and when Noah and Howie both end up falling for wealthy holiday-makers, they remain, as always, each other’s mutual sounding boards and reality checks. 

Howie (Bowen Yang) and Noah (Joel Kim Booster) are nothing but gay best friends in Fire Island (2022). 
Howie (Bowen Yang) and Noah (Joel Kim Booster) are nothing but gay best friends in Fire Island (2022). 

As queer writers upgrade LGBTQ+ representation with lived experience, putting queer characters front and center, the straight lead’s gay best friend in mainstream cinema is left looking like a poorly aged archetype that we’ve outgrown, sparking the question: what would a straight best friend look like? The forthcoming films Bros and Am I Ok? are set to flip the gay best friend script, making the straight best friend secondary to the gay protagonist’s narrative in films helmed by queer writers.

The trailer for Bros shows Billy Eichner’s character, Bobby, seeking support from straight married friends played by Monica Raymund and Guillermo Díaz. Like the rest of the film’s actors, they are queer, a casting decision that’s made headlines ahead of its September release. In the case of Am I Ok?, written and directed by wife-and-wife team Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne, Sonoya Mizuno’s Jane plays second fiddle to Dakota Johnson’s Lucy, as the latter haphazardly navigates coming out in her early thirties. 

Bobby (Billy Eichner) and Aaron (Luke Macfarlane) are love interests in the forthcoming rom-com with an all-queer cast, Bros.
Bobby (Billy Eichner) and Aaron (Luke Macfarlane) are love interests in the forthcoming rom-com with an all-queer cast, Bros.

Ultimately, modern depictions of the gay best friend aren’t unanimously refined. There’s a compelling argument to be made to bury the gay best friend trope forever. Existing portrayals leave us with a complicated—and borderline problematic—legacy. The gay best friend has fulfilled its purpose of letting LGBTQ+ characters exist in Hollywood movies, but these days it feels like a token portrayal that’s about as meaningful as a brand changing its Twitter profile icon to a rainbow during Pride Month.

But, while there’s a desire for more LGBTQ+ protagonists, it’s also important to recognize the place in the rom-com ecosystem that the gay best friend holds, and how it may continue to evolve. Crucially, when gay best friends are played by LGBTQ+ actors, it gives depth to these supporting characters, who often end up being more compelling than their straight counterparts (in other words, they carried the movie). 

The desire for a celluloid-tinted version of reality for the gay best friend does not have to come at a cost to their self-expression. Just as the rom-com itself is slowly being reinterpreted, the once-polarizing gay best friend archetype is being recontextualised with valuable narrative influence and progressive characterization that refuses to fall back on harmful, well-trodden tropes. 

With authentic bisexual, transgender and queer characters still lacking in mainstream cinema, perhaps we can keep the gay best friend around for a little longer, but with a much-needed makeover that brings the full spectrum of LGBTQ+ identity—and the full spectrum of friendship—to the screen. 


Fire Island’ is streaming on Hulu now. ‘Bros’ is scheduled to be released in US theaters on September 30. ‘Am I Ok?’ was acquired by HBO Max out of Sundance for an as-yet-undated streaming release.

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