Just Between Friends

(Allan Burns, USA, 1986)


A substitute gym teacher, Holly (Mary Tyler Moore), leads an aerobics class. One of the students, Sandy (Christine Lahti), catches her eye, smiling and winking as the lesson proceeds.


This happens not to be a film about lesbian relationships in the manner of John Sayles’ rightly forgotten Lianna (1983), or the wonderfully intense Personal Best (1982).


Nonetheless, the extraordinarily intense charge of even this innocent exchange reveals how rarely and (usually) badly the topic of female friendship is handled in mainstream cinema.


This disarming, little-known movie is in the tradition of Terms of Endearment (1983) and Say Anything … (1989). Focusing on the problem of how to square marriage, work and emotional restlessness, it avoids a misogynistic emphasis on the supposed neuroses of career women (unlike Broadcast News [1987]), and replaces it with an exploration of the strengths and tensions of female bonding.


In a gently Utopian way, writer-director Allan Burns (died January 2021, best known for his contribution to TV series including The Munsters, Lou Grant, Rhoda and The Mary Tyler Moore Show) eschews the grosser complications that the plot (both women are in love with the same man, Chip played by Ted Danson) would usually entail.


It imagines instead a world in which both female and male sensitivities overcome the inevitable entanglements of the heart.


Moore and Lahti are terrific, and the film is full of telling, truthful moments.

© Adrian Martin October 1990

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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