In defence of the Daggy Friend

Keira+Knightley+Stars+Film+Can+Song+Save+Life+5Q0zf_Oswo7lKeira Knightley sings in her new movie, and is really quite good. No, honestly. And even if they did AutoTune her vocals to bits, I’d have to say that they did a great job. She sounds a lot better than Scarlett Johannsson covering Tom Waits, at least.

The film’s called Begin Again, and it’s deliberately adorable. Keira plays Greta, a shy singer-songwriter who, at the start of the film, is dating her college sweetheart and fellow singer Adam Levine, who’s headed to New York to make it big.

Well, he’s called Dave in the movie, but he’s a twit with an implausibly high voice, so it’s just Adam Levine beneath the tiniest of cinematic fig leafs, really.

Obviously Greta didn’t read my polemic against the Maroon 5 singer, because she’s surprised when he dumps her like a total douche. Even though Greta is not only a brilliant songwriter who supplies him with better songs than the mediocre guff he writes himself, but has the looks of Keira Knightley, he cheats with some record company floozy because men are fools, or at least Adam Levine is.

Distraught, Keira leaves the fancy apartment that the record company paid for, and runs to the only other person she knows in New York, her Daggy Friend. Steve is played by the stubbly, plump, jolly James Corden, a fellow Brit who’s also come to the Big Apple to try and make sweet music – and in reality scrapes together a few bucks via busking.

Nevertheless, he gladly puts her up on the sofa of his tiny, tiny apartment, and so she doesn’t simply wallow in misery, he drags her out to a bar. Then, during his set, this paragon of human virtue invites her up on stage to sing a song because he thinks she’s so totally brilliant. Nobody notices except disaffected record company exec Mark Ruffalo, who that very day has quit the label he founded because it’s all rubbish and so forth, and yet hears Keira and suddenly believes in music again.

Yeah, this film sounds terrible right now – but I did honestly quite enjoy it. Anyway, Keira and Mark make a record together, setting up all over New York City to record al fresco with the sound of the taxis, kids playing, and whatever happens to be out there. It’s adorable, if highly derivative of the cult Take Away Shows.

Here’s the thing – despite Daggy Friend Steve being the pivotal figure who picks Keira/Greta up when she’s been discarded and gets her back on her feet, and performing on all of the dainty little manic pixie dreamgirl songs she records all over NYC, we never hear anything more from him. He’s off to the side of every shot. In fact, he’s so irrelevant to the overall movie that they haven’t even bothered to mention him in the synopsis. He may well be in love with her, but we don’t find out because the screenwriters essentially forget him halfway through.

But Steve was my favourite character. He’s the only person in the whole story who’s cheerful, and seems to in any way care about anybody else. He isn’t given his own romantic plot, and certainly not allowed a romance with Knightley. His only function, it seems, is to be there in her darkest hour, and then just help out, like some kind of useful butler.

There’s all manner of age-gap-disregarding sexual tension between Greta and Ruffalo’s character Dan, but Steve’s just there to smile along supportively, and play keyboard. Pathetic, really. I kept wanting to shout at the screen “Hook up with Steve, Greta! Good old Steve! He won’t leave you for some floozy!” And he wouldn’t have, either. His sheer gratitude would have lasted decades until his excessively big heart gave out, possibly with the assistance of excess cholesterol.

The original title of Begin Again was Can A Song Save Your Life?, but what it really should have been called is Yes, A Daggy Friend Can Save Your Life And Then We’ll Never Hear Anything From Him Again.

Begin Again is only the most recent example of this, of course. Like Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Garth in Wayne’s World, McLovin in Superbad, Daggy Friends are there as enablers and sidekicks, but ultimately get ignored when the action heats up.

In the Harry Potter books, Ron Weasley initially appears to be the Daggy Friend, and ultimately gets to hook up with Hermione Granger who is – let’s face it – far more awesome than Ginny Weasley. But Ron is actually the Comic Relief Friend, a far better character – Harry’s real daggy friend is Neville Longbottom, who gets randomly paired up with someone called Hannah Abbott, an almost entirely perfunctory character, just so JK Rowling can have a neat ending.

In fact, Daggy Friends have been left by the narrative wayside for centuries. In Romeo and Juliet, Benvolio’s the one who convinces Romeo to even go to that stupid party, and tries to be a peacemaker between the Montagues and Capulets, and then we pretty much forget about him. Sure, that means he doesn’t have to die at any point – but still – it’s a typical Daggy Friend gig.

The phenomenon is hardly unique to male Daggy Friends, of course. In both Emma and Clueless, the ingenue character is abandoned as soon as Emma/Cher realises that they have their own romance afoot. Uptight Shoshanna in Girls belatedly got some action from Ray, but she’s still regularly left out of many episodes entirely as Lena Dunham focuses on her less one-dimensional characters. And in Mean Girls, Cady leaves behind her two Daggy Friends, Damian and Janis, and even though there’s an ultimate reconciliation, we barely see them once Cady becomes friends with the Plastics.

For too long Daggy Friends have languished pointlessly in the shadows, which is why I’ve been so glad to see Jon Snow’s Daggy Friend Sam getting a romance of his own in recent episodes of Game of Thrones. And the new Star Trek movies put Daggy Spock together with Attractive Uhura, despite James Kirk having a thing for her. Uhura is a rare movie heroine who realises that the daggy, stable love interest is the better bet. As Spock would say, it’s simply logical.

Daggy Friends are kind and loyal, and they deserve better treatment in Hollywood. We need more movies like When Harry Met Sally, where both Harry and Sally’s Daggy Friends are paired off. Otherwise, we’re teaching everyone that loyal friends, the ones who are there when Adam Levine entirely predictably walks out on you, can just disappear from your life when they’ve fulfilled their purpose. It’s time Daggy Friends got not only the limelight, but the love interest.

Oh, and when not playing a Daggy Friend in Begin Again, James Corden is a Tony-winning phenomenon who’s more talented than Keira multiplied by Adam squared by Mark. So really, who’s the Daggy Friend now?

 

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