Growing Up (Or Not) in the Share-House on Screen

Best friends Tyler (Alia Shawkat) and Laura (Holliday Granger) wrestle over if living together is the dream or limits them from truly growing up in Animals, dir. Sophie Hyde (2019). Bonsai Films.

By Zoë Almeida Goodall | July 30, 2021

In many narratives about youth, the story ends with either high school graduation or the move to college, which means the story is generally set around the family home. But, in narratives about what comes afterwards – early adulthood – it is share-housing which is often used as a backdrop for character development and interaction. If, compared to living with your parents, living with a partner or on your own is perceived as ‘grown up’, then share-housing occupies an uncertain middle ground. 

Share-housing – that is, living with people other than family or a partner – isn’t new; people across history have lived with non-family for financial reasons. These days, it’s mostly seen as normal for young people in many countries, especially Australia, the US and the UK. This mainstreaming of share-housing can be seen in the countless sitcoms from the 1990s onwards that place its characters in shared homes, although this has as much to do with convenience as it does with housing norms. On New Girl (2011-2018), How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014), The Big Bang Theory (2007-2019) and many more, positioning the characters as housemates means they can conveniently interact without contrived excuses for sharing space all the time. 

Looking at narratives specifically about being young and stumbling through adulthood, share-housing occupies a varied role. In real life, of course, share-housing can be anything from a fulfilling source of companionship to a truly miserable experience. But what’s interesting is how the representation of share-housing reflects ideas about what constitutes ‘adult’ or ‘proper’ housing. Is share-housing a place where characters can grow up, or a place they have to leave in order to grow up – a transitional arrangement that must be abandoned once the characters are past a certain age? This is especially worth talking about in the current housing context for many countries, where share-housing is becoming more common and is often done for longer, due to a combination of increasing house prices and more flexible lifepaths.[1] When homeownership is beyond obtainable, solo living is expensive, and partnering up and having kids is deferred or not even a goal, then share-housing becomes more than just a ‘stepping stone’. 


In the mid-to-late 20th century, share-housing became an ideological choice in some Western liberal countries, where young people deliberately attempted to create politically progressive or anti-establishment homes in opposition to the nuclear family unit. On-screen during this period, the anarchic share-house featured in The Young Ones (1982-84) and Dogs in Space (Richard Lowenstein, 1986). At the tail end, Lowenstein returned with the film He Died with a Felafel in his Hand (2001), which might be the most iconic on-screen representation of share-housing.[2] Felafel follows Danny (Noah Taylor) as he moves across three terrible share-houses in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, and his housemates’ whacky behaviour drives the highs and lows of the narrative. Here, share-houses are depicted as lawless wastelands for weirdos, but as Jake Wilson points out in his review, most of the housemates “have nothing to say to each other”; share-housing is something they put up with, rather than something they enjoy. After the titular death, Danny walks away from the memorial with Sam (Emily Hamilton), his love interest, having finally received money for his writing – implying that they could now leave share-housing behind, and get a proper place for two. Despite share-housing creating all the entertainment, it’s depicted as completely undesirable; the pleasure as a viewer comes from incredulous disgust, like in a horror movie. 

A more complex depiction of share-housing appears in Frances Ha (2012), which uses Frances’s (Greta Gerwig) ever-changing address as chapter titles, similar to in Felafel. Initially, Frances lives with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) in blissful, couple-like intimacy. When Frances’s boyfriend suggests they move in together, she turns him down because she wants to keep living with Sophie – rejecting the normative expectation that living with a partner is the best option. Consequently, when Sophie tells Frances she wants to move out to live with other friends, who have a better house, Frances feels betrayed. As well as emphasising the grief of damaged friendship, the film demonstrates the delicacy of housing situations when you’re a young renter. This theme continues when Frances moves into a share-house with two male friends, creating a cosy home of friendship and routine. But when Frances can’t afford the rent increases, her wealthier housemates don’t understand, leading to her exit – a sharp truth that fun can’t overcome financial practicalities. Frances’s housing situation deteriorates rapidly, but after the film’s climax, she starts listening to people’s advice and eventually achieves financial stability, signified domestically by securing her own apartment. For someone who previously worried that her messy finances made her “not even a full person yet”, the triumph is palpable. But by emphasising that Frances lives alone – with the closing shot of her name, only, in the mailbox label – there’s an implication that she’s ‘grown up’ beyond share-housing, and that having her own place is what symbolises becoming a “full person.”

Frances (Greta Gerwig) temporarily moves in with Benji (Michael Zegan) and Lev (Adam Driver) until she can no longer afford to after her best friend moves out of their shared apartment in Frances Ha. IFC Films.

Frances Ha seems to emphasise that share-housing is best when you have a deep relationship with your housemates, but also that deep relationships don’t guarantee security. Frances is happiest living with Sophie, but it’s Sophie who introduces insecurity to their household by choosing to move out. At the movie’s end, the only person Frances has to rely on is herself. This individualism is cynical, although realistic if your friends are as flaky as Sophie. But the idea that it’s friendship that makes the share-house magical – indeed, an option equal to or better than living with a romantic partner – is echoed in other recent narratives about young people in share-houses. 

In Animals (2019), best friends Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat) live together in a huge, ramshackle Dublin house that’s the perfect base for their nights of wild adventure and days of hungover intimacy. After Laura falls in love with Jim (Fra Fee), he asks her to move in, but she’s reluctant to leave her home with Tyler – even after they get engaged. Tyler, too, doesn’t want Laura to move out, afraid that living apart will signal the demise of their co-dependent friendship. Ultimately, Laura separates from Jim but doesn’t continue cohabitation with Tyler, either. As Laura sees it, she’s torn between dull married life on one hand and self-destruction on the other, and so, as in Frances Ha, growing up means living alone. 

Like Felafel and Frances Ha, Animals too draws attention to financial struggles (Felafel does this in a darkly exaggerated way, with hired thugs collecting rent), which are often faced by share-house tenants in real life.[3] Tyler has to constantly remind Laura about paying rent and makes the point that she’d be financially inconvenienced if Laura moved out. As in Frances Ha, a time-jump at the end of the film shows our previously-broke heroine in a nice solo apartment, although it’s unclear how Laura could afford this. A different sort of financial situation is found in Please Like Me (2013-2016), which centres on Josh (Josh Thomas) and a collection of friends who share-house in Melbourne. In ‘Sausage Sizzle’ (S2, E5), it’s revealed that the house is owned by Josh’s father, and Josh doesn’t even pay rent. Josh’s situation, while a contrast to the share-housing depictions in other media, reflects the reality that housing unaffordability isn’t a uniform struggle for all young people, but rather the ones who can’t rely on the privilege of family wealth.[4]

Asking a friend to move in with you is a serious commitment in Broad City. CBS.

In Broad City (2014-2019), financial struggles and friendship are also central to share-housing, drawing a contrast between both great and terrible share-housing situations. Protagonists and best friends Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) and Ilana (Ilana Glazer) both live with flatmates, and although they both suffer the results of poor housing quality (rats, roaches, blocked toilets), Ilana lives with her friend Jaimé (Arturo Castro), which turns even the worst experiences into funny misadventures. Abbi, meanwhile, shares with a flatmate who is never there and the flatmate’s disgusting, ever-present boyfriend. Throughout the show, Abbi and Ilana grapple with what it means to be adults and what they ‘should’ be doing. Towards the end of the series, we see (comedically) how share-housing with a friend can be a serious choice. After Jaimé moves out, Ilana decides to ask Abbi to move in and, in ‘Sleep No More’ (S5, E8), literally approaches it like a marriage proposal. She gets down on one knee and nervously delivers a speech concluded with “will you be my roommate?” and presents Abbi with a ring-box with the apartment keys inside. When Abbi says no, revealing that she’s moving interstate, Ilana is devastated, sparking an emotional conversation about their relationship. Ilana’s ‘proposal’ might be funny, but, as with many moments on Broad City, just because it’s funny doesn’t mean it’s not making a point: Why shouldn’t living with a dear friend be seen as a serious commitment with emotional stakes? As in Animals and Frances Ha, the norm that living with a partner is inherently more grown-up or better than living with a friend is questioned, shining a light on alternative ways of doing adulthood. However, it is notable that these three narratives end with the protagonists living alone, something that is linked implicitly to their age: “I’m 30,” Abbi tells Ilana as the reason she can’t stay in New York with her; “You’re 32!” Laura’s sister yells when Laura and Tyler turn up drunk at a family event; “I’m 27,” Frances says defensively, when told she seems old. In this focus on age, there’s an anxiety about not growing up ‘right’ or doing it too late – and while there’s plenty of other factors at play in these narratives, housing situations form an interesting backdrop to these concerns. 

Ultimately, no one media depiction of share-housing will be ‘complete’, because share-housing experiences are as diverse as the people living within them. In this selection of media, share-housing is depicted as variously horrible and joyous, unstable and cosy. What’s clear is that a lot depends on financial security and the level of friendship between housemates – just as in real life. There is, however, still a persistent idea that share-housing represents youthful hijinks that have to stop after a certain age. Perhaps it’s actually sitcoms, where characters share-house long into adulthood, that provide a more optimistic picture of share-housing – even if it’s for plot convenience. While I don’t think housing policymakers take their cues from TV shows, I do think, as housing scholar Sophia Maalsen argues,[5] that taking share-housing seriously is necessary in a world where it’s becoming more common through both choice and constraint. More people are going to grow up and stay in share-housing – and perhaps new stories will reflect that.

[1]  There’s a vast body of research on ‘generation rent’, i.e. the concept of young people today renting long-term because buying a home isn’t possible. For a good summary of the situation across multiple countries, see scholar Richard Ronald’s article
[2]  The title of the 1994 book by John Birmingham and its film adaptation have become short-hand for ‘absolutely disastrous share-housing’ in everything from housing advice to academic work.
[3]  See for example Katrina Raynor and Laura Panza’s report on share-housing in Victoria, Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic.
[4]  See for example scholar Kim McKee’s article.
[5] Sophia Maalsen (2020) “‘Generation Share’: digitalized geographies of shared housing”, Social & Cultural Geography, 21:1, 105-113, DOI: 10.1080/14649365.2018.1466355

Zoë Almeida Goodall is a housing researcher and sometimes film critic. She is currently undertaking a PhD on share-housing and Australian housing policy, supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.

Finding Your Person: Platonic Soulmates in the Films of Greta Gerwig

Saoirse Ronan and Beanie Feldstein as Lady Bird and Julie in Lady Bird, dir. Greta Gerwig. A24.

By Claire White | February 23, 2021

I may not have seen every episode of Grey’s Anatomy, but I know Cristina Yang and Meredith Grey, and the phrase “you’re my person.A connection so strong that ‘best friend’ doesn’t even cover it. If someone is your person, they are it for you, they were put on this earth for you. Sure, this term can be used by romantic couples, but Cristina Yang and Meredith Grey made it about friendship. Female friendship has been depicted on screen for a long time, but rarely have I seen the deep connection and fulfilment female friendship can provide as the words “you’re my person.”

This intensity of friendship is something I believe Greta Gerwig knows well. Across three of her films as director, screenwriter and star — Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2012), Lady Bird (Gerwig, 2017) and Little Women (Gerwig, 2019)— Gerwig focuses her love and attention on exploring the relationships between young women. In particular, friendships: deep and fulfilling connections that make you wonder if maybe the love of your life might be your best friend.

Similar to Christina and Meredith, in their book, Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close, Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman find the term ‘best friends’ to describe their years-long friendship too limiting, not meaningful enough. They instead use the term Big Friendship, “because it’s one of the most affirming — and most complicated — relationships that a human life can hold.” They lament the lack of exploration of how friendship can be just as meaningful as a romantic relationship. After all, they are based on the same principles of attraction and connection, and like any long-term relationship, they take work to maintain. The friendships in each of Gerwig’s films go through a stage of break and disconnect. This narrative of bliss – break – reunion is typical of any romantic narrative seen on screen, but like Sow and Friedman’s own relationship, is also typical of friendships. By putting platonic love at the same level as romantic relationships, Gerwig likewise argues the case for the romance of friendship.

Frances Ha, co-written by and starring Gerwig, is a story about Frances (Gerwig), who considers herself only half an adult, still coming of age. As much as she spends the film trying to find her place in the world, it is also a breaking apart of Frances and her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumners). The film opens with a montage of their friendship. It’s happy, domesticated: scenes of romantic bliss. However, when Sophie moves out of their shared apartment and in with her boyfriend, the two become distant, and descend into hurt, much like a break-up. Frances floats from one living situation to another, mourning the loss of her best friend, describing Sophie moving out as “Sophie dumped me.” However, she continues to exercise devotion, clinging to the memory of the one she loves by continually bringing her up in every conversation (even to people she’s just met): Sophie is “the best person I know,” Sophie is her other half.

Sumners and Gerwig in Frances Ha. IFC Films.

When describing feelings of friendship, one usually uses the term ‘platonic,’ which derives from the philosopher Plato. In his book The Nature of Love, Irving Singer describes Plato’s theory of love as a state outside of sex where there is a “yearning for one’s other half.” He believed that in prehistoric times, humans were split into two, destined to roam the earth forever in search of their soulmate to make them whole again. 

Throughout the separation, Frances not only longs for her best friend, but searches for her place in the world, a chance to feel whole again. Although she dabbles in other friendships and romantic relationships with men on her journey, these relationships are found to be unfulfilling. 

At one point during their time apart, Frances describes what true love is to her:

“It’s that thing when you’re with someone, and you love them and they know it, and they love you and you know it, but it’s a party and you’re both talking to other people, and you’re laughing and shining and you look across the room and catch each other’s eyes, but not because you’re possessive, or it’s precisely sexual, but because that is your person in this life.” 

This definition of love is epitomised in one of the final scenes of the film. At a party after Frances’ debut choreography performance, Frances is talking to her old boss when she looks up across the room, and meets Sophie’s eye. Sophie smiles at her and laughs. Although eventually Frances was able to find the strength and courage to take her career as a dancer into her own hands and produce her own work, with Sophie back in her life she is stronger. Sophie is her person in this life.

The idea of platonic soulmates is something I have been passionate about for a long time. I haven’t dated very much, but I have felt the deep connection between friends, a recognition of myself in them, that makes me wonder “where have you been all my life?” I have no hesitancy to say my friends are the loves of my life, my soulmates, to call a friend my person. This is one of the main reasons why I connect so deeply to Gerwig as a filmmaker. While Frances Ha undoubtedly carries Gerwig’s mark, in her directorial debut, Lady Bird (which she also wrote), she clearly demonstrates how important these ideas of grand romance between friends are to her as a filmmaker.

Lady Bird’s Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) and her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein), are no doubtedly two halves of the same whole. There is symmetry in the way they dress (matching purple nail polish, backpacks, and friendship bracelets), and they are always by each other’s side for life’s mundane moments (in class, flipping through magazines at the supermarket), as well as the Big ones (homecoming, heartbreak). When they audition for the school musical, they sit so closely together, Julie’s body overlapping Lady Bird’s, it’s like they have merged into one person. 

Julie and Lady Bird, two halves of a whole in Lady Bird. A24.

Best friends are not uncommon in girlhood films, more often than not, these friendships can be toxic (Mean Girls), fatal (Jawbreaker) or center around the pursuit of a boy (most of everything else). To be fair, throughout the narrative of the film, Lady Bird pursues relationships with two boys, sweet Danny (Lucas Hedges) and cool Kyle (Timothée Chalamet), and it is during her pursuit of the latter that Lady Bird and Julie go through their own friend breakup. 

But, the relationship with Kyle was never going to last. Not only once she realised how unfulfilling it was, but also because in order to be a part of his world, she had pretended to be someone else. It is undeniable that Lady Bird (her self-given name) is going through a process of identity formation and transformation into her ideal self, but with Kyle, she is surrounded by people who do not understand her. 

This is best encapsulated the night of senior prom. In the car with Kyle and popular girl Jenna (Odeya Rush), Lady Bird’s dreams are dashed when the popular kids decide to skip prom. Lady Bird’s disappointment is visible, but she concedes. She might have gone through with their plan and lived with this disappointment had ‘Crash Into Me’ by Dave Matthews Band not begun to play on the car radio. It’s the same song that Lady Bird and Julie sang along to while sitting in an empty car, holding hands and crying over Danny earlier in the film, an intimate moment of shared heartbreak. Unlike Kyle, Julie is someone who understands Lady Bird, and feels what she feels. Someone she can feel complete with. 

Instead of a grand declaration of heterosexual romantic bliss, as is typical in the genre, the major romantic reunion in Lady Bird is not between her and a boy, but between Lady Bird and her best friend. Rejecting Kyle’s opinions and declaring she actually wants to go to Prom, when she tells Jenna that Julie is her best friend, it is filled with the same reverence, and sounds a lot like “she’s my person.”

Lady Bird reunites with Julie and takes her to the prom. ‘Crash Into Me’ continues to play as they dance among the other couples on the dance floor, get their pictures taken in the typical prom-couple pose, and cling to each other all night. Their happiness from being together again is palpable. With this reunion, Gerwig once again shows us that romantic moments don’t always have to be sought after with a guy. They can be found with your best friend. 

Frances and Lady Bird both go through a break with their best friends, but it is in reuniting with Sophie and Julie that they are able to become the best versions of themselves, demonstrating how, as Sow and Freidman write, friends “grow in response to each other.” This is equally true of Jo and Laurie in Little Women, albeit their journey is a little different.

Jo and Laurie in Little Women. Sony Pictures.

Even Jo (Ronan) and Laurie’s (Chalamet), friendship represents a wholeness. Not only in the immediate way their energies match as they dance wildly in secret at the ball where they first meet (in a manner most improper, but suiting to them both) but also in the way they share clothes, swapping waistcoats and hats so that in many ways, it is hard to see where Jo ends and Laurie begins. Unfortunately, like Frances and Lady Bird, they also go through their own break, as a result of a rejected proposal, and Laurie escaping, heartbroken, to Europe. During this break, the emptiness Jo feels without her best friend is felt in a letter Jo writes to ultimately accept his proposal, because “the worst fate is to live my life without you in it.” During the time Little Women was set (Civil War-Era America), there were few examples of the way attachments between a man and woman could be expressed, beyond marriage. But, that is not the only way love can manifest. Jo and Laurie eventually reconnect, as Laurie realises the love he feels for Jo is different to the love he feels for her sister Amy (Florence Pugh), who he marries, which he may never have realised if Jo did not stand her ground and refuse his proposal, knowing that marriage is not the way they are meant to love each other.

It is important to have these films such as Frances Ha and Lady Bird focusing on loving-friendships and platonic soulmates, because they offer an example, and recognition, to audiences that Jo and Laurie lacked. Too many times I have witnessed my friends (and myself) in tears over how hard and demeaning dating can be, and it breaks my heart, because being in a romantic relationship shouldn’t be the only way we gain value. 

Often, when I’m with my friends, I sit back and think about how lucky I am to have them, to love them. These beautiful, bright, shining people. It has taken work, but I have never been so happy as when our instant connection is solidified by dancing in a circle, our arms wrapped around each other on the dance floor; passing the mundane hours away by dancing to early-2000’s hits around our bookshop, until we are interrupted by a customer; sending each other flowers; going on dinner-and-a-movie dates; hiding upstairs at a party with a plate of cupcakes between us; or laughing around a dinner table. By consistently bringing attention to these deep and meaningful relationships, Gerwig’s films show us that these close friendships are just as, if not more, important and worthy of attention. We learn that it is possible to find love, romance and fulfillment outside of romantic-sexual love. That no matter what happens, if a person breaks your heart, if you can’t find a date, as long as you have your friends beside you, there is love.

Claire White is a writer, bookseller and teen film tragic from Naarm (Melbourne), Australia. She is a Co-Founder of Grow Up, a founding member of online film journal Rough Cut, and Greta Gerwig Scholar. You can follow her on Twitter @theclairencew.