Friday, 10 November 2006

Just Friends (2006)

There is a comedy sub-genre that deals with losers from high school and what becomes of them after graduation. They might remain sad losers and social outcasts as adults (Kevin Kline’s Clerks and Clerks 2), revel in their unique status and still have more fun that the school jocks and queens (Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion), or take revenge on their childhood tormentors (Revenge of the Nerds and its sequels).

Or they could grow up into highly successful, good-looking alpha males and females who get all the attention and love they want. Just Friends takes the final choice for its comedy setup, a rare choice nowadays. As the movie opens, Chris Brander (Ryan Reynolds, seen on sitcoms like Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place) is painfully obese, socially awkward, dweebish, mawkish, and very much infatuated with his long-time playmate, platonic friend and classmate, the very beautiful Jamie (Amy Smart). Who understandably says something to the effect of “thanks but no thanks, let’s remain just friends” when Chris chooses, during the graduation party, to express his feelings for her and his hopes for a closer type of relationship. Adding insult to injury, Chris is humiliated in front of all his classmates and decides to run out of town.

While an entire comedy could be made about the transformation of Chris from the guy in the fat suit to an athletic, handsome, rich, flirtatious record executive who gets all the girls, Just Friends brings Chris back to his hometown, the only place where his self-confidence would melt away easily, especially at the sight of Jamie, the only object of desire that the master of seduction was unable to conquer in his youth. Will Chris woo her as the alpha male he is, or will he again be reduced to a blubbering, self-conscious nervous wreck of a dweeb he was? Will he achieve his life-long dream and desire before his borderline psychotic, utterly self-centred, and positively bimbotic pop star charge (Anna Faris) kill him or seduce his kid brother (Chris Marquette)?

Adam Davis takes pleasure out of humiliating Chris at every chance he gets, creating the bulk of the meanspirited comedy for Just Friends. There are so many things that made this movie succeed at getting my laughs: a good eye for comic potential and a determination to go all out to milk it; perfect comic timing, both in the execution of jokes and in making sure they linger just long enough for the laughs to turn into tears, but not long enough for your laughter to turn into yawns; the Marx Brothers brand of physical comedy between Ryan Reynolds and Chris Marquette; the very bizarre triangle between Anna Faris, Reynolds and Marquette that actually has more comic potential than the other triangle involving Reynolds and Amy Smart.

Of course, it helps that Anna Faris brings the house down every time she appears on screen as the spiritual (or is it demonic) incarnation of what you’d get if you mix Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and every vacuous and untalented airhead singer. Director Robert Kumble pays attention to even the tinniest of details, and ekes out recurring jokes out of them!

In a way, the made-in-Canada comedy proves to the world that it is actually easy to make a good romantic comedy, even if it is a little formulaic. All Hollywood needs to do is to stop casting A-list actors in romantic comedies, because scriptwriters tend to lose all proportion in a mad rush to tailor the screenplay to the image and brand name of the stars instead of writing a genuinely funny and slightly more original script.

First published at incinemas on 16 November 2006

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