For a medium that seems to thrive on movement and action, sometimes the best and most memorable moments in cinema have resulted from taking a more laid-back and sociable approach. F. Gary Gray’s 1995 directorial debut Friday is perhaps one of the purest representations of the hangout movie, in that the majority of the action takes places with the characters of Craig and Smokey (played by co-writer Ice Cube and Chris Tucker, respectively) seemingly nailed down to seats on former’s porch as they idly observe the various bizarre goings-on in their South Central LA neighbourhood. A light-hearted riff on the more serious gang-related coming-of-age yarns like Menace II Society and Boyz n the Hood (which also starred Cube), the audience are happy to take a similarly relaxed stance as they watch the duo who, in turn, watch the world go by through a haze of Mary Jane.
But the hangout movie doesn’t have to mean complete inertia on behalf of the characters. One of the earlier examples of the subgenre had its two leads spending time together by way of an epic cross-country trek through America. While 1969’s Easy Rider is acknowledged as one of the films which ushered in the seventies movie revolution, it’s basically two dudes – with Jack Nicholson’s glorious third wheel for a portion of the film – having a wonderful time on the road, basking in the freedom and the lack of constraints that brings, if tragically playing the ultimate price for that lifestyle choice at the very end. Diner, American Graffiti and The Big Chill are others fine examples of the subgenre from decides back, using that set-up to cast a warm nostalgic glow over proceedings, with their tight ensemble and unforgettable jukebox soundtracks – a model that Dazed and Confused would embrace years later.
Speaking of which, nineties US indie cinema and it’s studio-crafted offshoots might just have the monopoly on the hangout movie, with Dazed director Richard Linklater working almost exclusively in that realm during those years, with the likes of Before Sunrise, SubUrbia and Waking Life – which is essentially a hangout film, just with more of a metaphysical bent.
The Big Lebowski certainly qualifies as a hangout movie, particularly as The Dude and his buddies seek solace in the bowling alley between their misadventures. That decade, more specifically 1994, saw another perfect film to within this subgenre with Kevin Smith’s delightful lo-fi slacker comedy, Clerks. Like Friday, Smith’s two main protagonist are similarly chained to one location, although this time it’s due to employment, rather than lack of it.
A proponent of the hangout movie and someone who doesn’t quite get his due for this, is one Quentin Tarantino. While fans often cite his grindhouse excursion Death Proof as his worst effort, the film’s lengthy bar scene is a blast, and it’s hard to believe that any viewer wouldn’t immediately want to step into that world to down tequila shots and generally shoot the breeze with Tarantino’s smart and feisty females.
With its relaxed plotting, effortless interplay and that ease with dropping in and out of the character’s lives and situations, Jackie Brown could also be characterised as a hangout movie. While most of these films involve friends grouped together having a good time, The Breakfast Club is an entirely different take. The characters here, who have been forced together for a Saturday detention, are comprised of the kind of social circles which wouldn’t ordinarily mix, were it not for this strange punishment. In many ways, their ostensive lack of similarity ends up creating arguably one of the best hangout movies out there.
Watch Friday on CHILI