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I hate anything that could remotely be construed as a date movie. If you look at the movies that I’m prone to reviewing, you won’t see many there because it takes some sort of extra-ordinary act (read: free tickets) to get me to see one. In fact, I only went to see this movie because I thought my wife might enjoy it (read: I owed her a date movie). So naturally I expected—no, wanted—to hate this movie. But I found that I simply couldn’t. Examining the power/trap of men and women being friends, I found that Just Friends wants to be this year’s When Harry Met Sally.
Just Friends starts off seeming like the fantasy movie that too many of us can relate to and would like to make. Chris Brander (Ryan Reynolds) is trapped in the most painful of adolescent traps: high school best friends with the love of his life, Jamie (Amy Smart). Sadly for Chris, he’s overweight, socially awkward, and terribly unsure of himself. After a series of unfortunate incidents, he vows to get even with everyone by leaving his loser image behind. (By the way, did I miss the memo stating that we are already nostalgic for the '90s?)
Anyway, fast forward to Chris, the man, suddenly living the life that he always wanted. As a record label player, he now has the looks, money, women, glamour, yet still can’t find himself in a relationship worth staying in. Probably because, having learned his lesson with Jamie, he now operates under the theory that friendship precludes a dating relationship. He will not be trapped in the friend zone again.
Through circumstances beyond his control, Chris—now saddled with bubblegum pop icon Samantha James (Anna Faris)—has to revisit his hometown. The time has arrived to show off the man he has become and have a second shot at the woman who was his true love. His competition is another guy doing a lot of pretending—Dusty (Chris Klein), once another acne-scarred nerd—to be the nicest guy imaginable. And the hijinks ensue (what kind of romantic comedy would this be if no hijinks were to be found?).
“Is your life everything you’d thought it’s be.” —JamieWhat is it about high school that makes us fall back into the roles we had when we were there? The secret dread of high school reunions is that either you hope to get “revenge” on those who tormented you during that time by you being a success and them an utter failure or that you are forever trapped with the persona you had then. Nerds and outcasts will always be nerds and outcasts. Jocks and cheerleaders will always be vacuous (um, no bitterness here, move along). Or family, for that matter? Big brothers will always be big brothers. Sons will always be their mother’s little boy.
Immediately upon his return, Chris finds himself reverting back to the teen he was in high school: unable to do anything right, smothered by his mother, and fighting with his younger brother, played by Chris Marquette (Joan of Arcadia). It’s as if, no matter how hard he tries, he can’t escape who he really is. So the question becomes, “who are you?”
“I don’t want to be myself.” —ChrisChris wants to show off the man he has become, only ending up putting on a show of the man he thinks Jamie wants. In the process, he becomes every bit the jerk he despised in high school. At the heart of the movie is a battle between what could be described as Chris’ “true” self and his “false” self.
M. Basil Pennington, the Trappist monk at St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, defines the false self as "made up of what I have, what I do, what people think of me." Thomas Merton, another Trappist monk, often wrote often about the battle between the "false self" (the one we so often hide behind in order to shield ourselves from pain and painful truths) and the "true self" (the self God created for union with himself).
A lot of the humor of the movie stems from the fact that despite his efforts to show off the new cool him, Chris keeps reverting back to the dork he used to be. Jamie, however, wants the guy she knew. The real him. The dork. His inner dork.
“Are you in love with anyone besides yourself?” —JamieYou see, Chris struggles with a self-centeredness, a preoccupation with himself that clouds every other aspect of his being. As Merton puts it: "All sin starts with the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered" (New Seeds in Contemplation). This self-centeredness needs to be countered. This starts with reassessing what is at the heart of our identity. "The secret of my identity is hidden in the love and mercy of God ... If I find him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find him ... The only one who can teach me to find God is God himself, alone." We must take seriously the need for transformation within us.
I don’t know if you people feel me: I really didn’t want to like this movie. It’s not a movie concerned with character development or even a well-told story. However, how can you hate a movie that’s a cross between The Wedding Singer and Say Anything? Just Friends is breezy entertainment, funny, with a crass streak through it—a laugh-at-any-expense mentality—to keep guys entertained. Aimed at an undemanding audience, the movie is every bit the pop confection that Samantha James personifies and will probably prove as popular.