A buddy film portrays the pairing of two people, often the same sex, historically men. A friendship between the two people is the key relationship in a buddy film. The two people often come from different backgrounds or have different personalities, and they tend to misunderstand one another. Through the events of the buddy film, they gain a stronger friendship and mutual respect. Buddy films often deal with crises of masculinity, especially related to class, race, and gender. American Masculinities: A Historical Encyclopedia explains, "[Buddy films] offer male movie–going audiences an opportunity to indulge in a form of male bonding and behavior usually discouraged by social constraints." Ira Konigsberg wrote in The Complete Film Dictionary, "Such films extol the virtues of male comradeship and relegate male–female relationships to a subsidiary position."
The Los Angeles Times in 2001 called the genre "a necessary escapist fantasy", writing, "It's one of the few arenas where men can openly express their feelings for each other, even though men on screen today seem less comfortable with each other than ever before." In buddy films, the two men are markedly different, and their relationship with each other is challenged by events in the film. The two are often different enough that one is aggravated by the other. The interaction between two men also differs from the interaction between a man and a woman, which shapes a film's dynamics. Robert Kolker writes in A Cinema of Loneliness, "The buddy complex views sexuality as an obstacle to manly acts. But this denial of sexuality carries a covert admission of the possibilities of homosexuality, which, of course, is inadmissible." Kolker says the main characters typically have relationships with female secondary characters who are relegated to the background. In the 1962 Italian film Il sorpasso (English title: The Easy Life), the characters Roberto and Bruno spend time together and grow emotionally attached. Sergio Rigoletto writes, "Their statements of emotional proximity are... always quite oblique... in doing so they comply with the dominant social conventions according to which the love between two men cannot be clearly spoken in films." While the characters do not have sex with women in the film, they express desire for heterosexual adventures. Women in the film are secondary characters and possess traits that negatively contrast them with the male–male relationship.