'My Brilliant Friend': HBO's latest take on women's friendship has passed the Bechdel Test with flying colors
Unlike Lena Dunham's 'Girls' which was just a whiny representation of women, Saverio Costanzo's show depicts friendship in its rawness.
When Lena Dunham's 'Girls' aired its finale episode, it was established as the show which has helped give rise to ensemble female-lead tv shows. Amid Hannah's claim to her parents that she desired to be the "voice of my generation or at least the voice of a generation", 'Girls' gave an underlining look into what female friendship comprises of, and to be honest it had not told the whole story. Fortunately, HBO's adaptation of the first book, 'My Brilliant Friend', from Elena Ferrante's four-part Neapolitan novel series has succeeded in depicting female friendship in quite a broad manner.
The story follows the plight of two young girls whose friendship is put to test not just by the feud in the neighborhood between the rich and the poor, but by also how the brilliance of one friend is perceived as a threat to the intellect by the other friend. Starring Margherita Mazzucco (as Elena/Lenu) and Gaia Girace (as Raffaella/Lila), the Saverio Costanzo-created show is set against the dangerous but fascinating Naples, Italy, in the 1950s. Lenu and Lila are growing up in a dilapidated neighborhood of a post-World War II Berlin, and the story revolves around the two girls living as one entity but holding two extremely distinct perspectives towards life.
Probably the entire credit goes to Ferrante, who painted the two girls under such raw lights that the show has managed to give an honest depiction of female friendship. There have certainly been several depictions of female friendship on screen, and one of HBO's most celebrated shows, Lena Dunham's 'Girls' had taken a flickering look into the dynamics between four twenty-something girls living in New York. Unfortunately, the show was highly criticized for projecting women as people who mostly whine about nonsense and are always on the lookout for a better option of a partner. The show's narrowed perception of women and the dynamics they share with their own kind had failed the Bechdel Test, terribly.
Dunham's show aired during a time when women are more independent, adventurous, and empathetic than before but 'Girls' had only managed to merely touch upon these characteristics. However, HBO's latest depiction of women's friendship in 'My Brilliant Friend' is literally like a placebo effect which is helping heal the wounded dignity left behind by 'Girls'. Centering around Lila and Lenu, two extremely intelligent and kind girls, the show throws light on the various shade of their friendship. Lila and Lenu are not friends because they like the same clothes or have similar taste in men. It is their common urge to experience life in all its glory that puts these two extremely distinct individuals on a single plate.
Lenu begins to introduce Lila as someone she was always intimidated by but was curious to know what was going on in her mind. Lila was already a prodigy who had taught herself to read and write, and when she realized that unlike other kids Lenu was not afraid of her, Lila began to see Lenu as her listener. Being a demure little girl, Lenu was fascinated by Lila's firm disposition and her fearless nature. It was almost like Lila was everything that Lenu wished to be, and she would do everything that Lenu would never think of in the first place, such as bunking school to see the sea. Lila was the gust of fresh air which Lenu never knew she needed until she found it.
Not for once do the two say a single word of appreciation for each other except for admiring their works. Lenu was immediately captivated when Lila handed her first book, 'The Blue Fairy', and even then she managed to hold back from revealing to Lila that she actually was fond of her. Lila, on the other hand, considered Lenu to be the only one with whom she could share her most intimate thoughts. She would never apologize for her actions or thank Lenu for any favor; to her, their friendship seemed to surpass all needs of expressing gratitude. The two remained stuck to each other because, in that little neighborhood, there was no one else like them.
Jealousy would creep in everytime Lenu realized that her brilliant friend had defeated her in academics, but it would be immediately shrouded by a mellow sense of respect and approval which they would both feel towards each other. There was never any trace of betrayal or angst between them, only a doubtful pride in being able to be there for each other. Honestly, Lenu was never able to trust Lila entirely but that did not keep her from letting Lila come into her life, and show her what more the world could be. The two always seem to be bound together by the common desire for unsuppressed knowledge and a hope for a future better than what their parents had promised them.
'My Brilliant Friend' does not decorate the friendship between two women with extravagant approaches and insincere promises. Rather it takes their friendship day-by-day and puts them to the test only to see the two girls come out of all prejudice with flying colors. Although as individuals from the 50s, a time when gender equality was a mere hope, Lila and Lenu are the suitable portrayals of the modern woman, her dreams and aspirations, and her vulnerability when it comes to love and devotion. 'My Brilliant Friend' returns to HBO on November 2, and this time the two girls' friendship will be tested like never before.