Just Friends

February 9th, 2006 Film, Film Reviews, Personalities, Xpress

Directed by Roger Kumble

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Amy Smart, Chris Klein, Anna Faris, Julie Hagerty

‘My wife and I accidentally conceived our second child while I was shooting this movie.’

That’s what life must be like with Roger Kumble, director of Just Friends and the man who convinced Ryan Reynolds to spend four hours every day getting fitted with a fat suit. Even watching Just Friends, you get the idea Kumble doesn’t want much more than a few laughs out of life.

In one of smallest but most memorable touches of the film, a bouncer throws Chris (Reynolds) out into the snow, yelling ‘And stay out’. Listen carefully and you’ll hear him mutter ”always wanted to say that’ on his way back inside.

It makes you realise Kumble’s a director who’s not afraid to abandon the core message if it means a laugh. Another recurring gag with has little to do with the plot is Chris’ ditzy mother, played by Julie Hagerty (of Flying High fame as Elaine the stewardess).

‘That bouncer line wasn’t until we were on the mixing stage,’ Kumble recalls. ‘This very smart studio executive said ‘what if he says ‘I always wanted to say that?’ And we liked that, we wanted to not take ourselves so seriously at certain moments.’

You might be surprised to hear this from the guy who created the nasty teen drama Cruel Intentions and launched Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillipe to fame.

‘I’ve always preferred comedy,’ Kumble says, ‘Cruel Intentions was my first movie and I actually found it easier doing drama — comedy is so hard to pull off.’

A breakout hit in the US (and for some reason huge in England), Kumble is thrilled with the film’s performance, considering the environment is was released in. ‘Reaction’s been great. I was terrified because they were throwing us out there with King Kong and all the Oscar movies and we really held our own. It turned a really nice profit and we got some good reviews. It’s a universal theme and I’m hoping it plays internationally.’

But then, any story (particular the cliche-strewn landscape of the romantic comedy) that gives us something different will be pounced upon by audiences, and while Just Friends is light, airy and fluffy, it’s not one of those formula-driven, scripted-by-committee studio movies.

A short prologue introduces the geeky and overweight Chris and the friendship (and secret crush) he’s harboured for Jamie (Smart) for most of his life. When his classmates use his feelings to humiliate him at the graduation party, Chris rides off on his bike, swearing he’ll show them all.

Then we meet the present-day Chris, an LA player who’s left New Jersey far behind. Escorting an airhead celebrity bimbo (whom Kumble describes as a parody of ‘all of ’em’ — Paris, Nikki, Jessica, etc) across country, their plane puts down right near his home town and Chris finds himself back in the middle of the lives and loves he thought he’d left behind, including the still beautiful Jamie.

Little about Just Friends is as predictable as you assume it’ll be. There are both genuine laughs and moments of tenderness peppered throughout that are really effective.

Ryan Reynolds hasn’t made the best choices in films so far (including the disappointing Blade: Trinity and the puerile, unfunny Waiting), but he’s been the best thing about most of the films he’s been in, with a genuine presence and a real sense for comedy few of his peers can muster.

If you don’t like romantic comedies you won’t like it. It’s kind of silly, but it’s also cute, sweet and funny, and if you do like romantic comedies, what else can you ask for?

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