Just Friends (2005)
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The Ugly Duckling meets the Three Stooges. This isn’t an exact description of the film Best Friends, but gives you an idea. Take one over weight and shy teenager (a.k.a. the school loser), then fast forward 10 years. In the beginning of the movie Chris Brander (played by Ryan Reynolds of “The Wedding Party”, “Amityville Horror” and “Waiting”) is the epitome of the lonely kid that everyone makes fun of and avoids (except to make fun of) – with the exception of two friends and his closest buddy, Jamie Palamino (played by Amy Smart who has a long list of performances including “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton” and “The Butterfly Effect). And as much as Chris is the class loser, Jamie is just the opposite – a beautiful and popular cheerleader.
Which makes it interesting because Chris and Jamie aren’t just friends, they are the closest of buds, helping each other out and sharing the deepest secrets. Well, all except one really big secret. The one where Chris is really in “love” with Jamie. And on graduation night, Chris finally gets up the nerve to tell Jamie – but only gets in return the infamous “Just Friends” speech. This separates Chris and Jamie for ten long and life-changing years; which is where the real story begins.
Like the Ugly Duckling, Chris goes through a transformation and becomes a successful LA music executive with all the stereotype money, models, and lifestyle that goes with the title. Seeing Chris at the beginning reminded of how the Ugly Duckling felt in Hans Christian Andersons’ fable. There is a line in it where it says that the Ugly Duckling “wasn’t pretty, and since he ate far more than his brothers, he was outgrowing them” and the Ugly Duckling laments “Nobody loves me, they all tease me! Why am I different from my brothers?” But then after some time working on himself in LA, he comes back to his home town in New Jersey transformed into the beautiful swan (which was in him all the time anyways).
But the story doesn’t stop there. As it says at the end of the Ugly Duckling fable “One day, he heard children on the river bank exclaim: ‘Look at that young swan! He’s the finest of them all!’ And he almost burst with happiness.” Now this is where the story begins to twist and turn from the fable. Imagine if the swan (a.k.a. Ugly Duckling) determined that “yes, it was the finest. And not only that, but it was even better than all the rest of the swans.” That’s how this story goes. Chris has become exactly the “bad boy” stereotype that Jamie had dated throughout high school. Relationships had become a game. If you made the right moves, you score – then move on to the next challenge. And when Chris accidentally finds himself in his hometown and runs into Jamie, as the new-and-improved Chris Brander, he believes that now, finally, he can score with Jamie. But we are told that Jamie has matured and is looking for more. This sets the background for the bulk of the movie.
I would say as a romantic comedy, this had a lot more comedy than romance. Yes, there is a romantic tale that is woven into the fabric of the film, but it seemed that this only provided a backdrop for the real purpose of the movie – slapstick at it’s finest. This is where the three stooges analogy comes in for those of you that have not been following along :0). Ryan Reynolds is a pro at the slap and fall routine. And he is at his best in this genre for this movie. His little brother in the movie, Mike, is played by Christopher Marquette (known for “The Girl Next Door” and my favorite cancelled show as Adam in “Joan of Arcadia”). From the very first time that the two of them are together in a scene, it is like watching the three stooges (minus one). They are constantly beating up on each other, like real siblings, though a little bit extreme. Plus I don’t know too many men in their late twenties who go at it like Chris and Mike do. But this leads us into much of the slapstick comedy which this movie hinges on. Even as I write this Review I am still laughing at many of the scenes (Chris flying down a slope on a stretcher and landing face first on the ice). Add to this the over exaggerated role of Samantha James (played by Anna Faris). Her role as a whacked out California pop singer is just crazy enough to provide a great contrast between Chris’ current LA lifestyle and the life he left behind in New Jersey. Not only this, but at times, she provides the third stooge with spurts of slapstick comedy.
Of course, it all ends up ok and love conquers all :-) But the real Message in the Movie wasn’t about how love conquers all. In fact, like I said, the love story was secondary to much of the film. The real message is about finding who you really are, and to some degree about family. The second message came somewhat as a shock to me and showed up suddenly – and only momentarily. At one point, amongst all the fighting between Chris and his brother Mike, there is a scene where Mike is headed upstairs, eating a cookie, and grabs another one before heading up the stairs. Chris is standing in his room staring at a passed out Samantha as Mike walks in and stands next to him. In every scene leading up to this Mike taunts Chris (like most little brothers) and then gets beat up by Chris. But in this scene, just when you are waiting for the vicious attack, Mike hands Chris the other cookie and says “I love ya”, and Chris responds, “I love you too”. And that’s the scene. It was like wow! We forget that love isn’t always expressed with flowers, a fine dinner, or presents. Sometimes it is expressed in the only way that two people can communicate. Not that I am saying by any means that it is okay for someone to hit someone else. But siblings compete amongst themselves (which is fairly common) and in the case of Chris and Mike, this shown through their taunting and fighting. But I also imagine that if anyone else attacked one of them, the other would be right there to defend them. They can fight, but don’t let anyone mess with their family.
The other, more prominent Message is that of finding out who oneself is, and being that person. Chris became what Jamie had always wanted (in the past), but now she had outgrown that type of person. He had gone from the Ugly Duckling to the Swan on the outside, but had gone from the Swan to the Ugly Duckling on the inside. When, in high school, he had Jamie in his life and that had provided stabilization and focus for his life. When they separated, Chris lost his way, as if he was in the darkness without a light. It was when he reconnected with his source of life, Jamie, and she showed him the light, that he finally understood that it wasn’t whether you were an Ugly Duckling or a Swan. It is all about if you are the “real” you – and what sort of person are you. This reminded me of how I feel when I become disconnected from God (which happens probably way too often). Lost, though I think I am happy. It is only when I come back to God, see His light, and realize who I really am. Not just a lonely person out there by myself, but part of a family that (yes I fight with too often), greater than any family I could ever imagine. And a family where I can be the “real” me. That is when I really find happiness.
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