(kr) wrote: Romantic comedies are often held up as the epitome of Hollywood dross. They are used to guage how far the standards of comedy and character development have fallen in the history of cinema, and every year another bad reminder of their poor quality and cynical nature comes along to torment us. The fact that many of these films make bucketloads of money can only be explained by a lack of alternative viewing for women, or a lack of taste all-round.The thing is, very few people who genuinely care about cinema want it to be this way. Hating on a given film is a popular and cathartic exercise, but every time a new film comes along, every true film fan is wanting it to be good. Every so often a film arrives in whatever genre which appears to have nothing going for it and turns out to be truly worthwhile. Just Friends, on the other hand, is every bit as empty and stupid as its appearance would lead us to believe.One of the most common problems with modern romantic comedies is that the leading characters are deeply unlikeable. Hollywood has always flaunted the wealth of its characters, as seen in the classic romances of the Golden Age and its continuing obsession with British royalty. But in recent years its celebration of wealth and stature has mutated into something more mean-spirited: while in the past wealth was presented as something to admire or respect in a character (rightly or wrongly), now it is used as an excuse for that character to be as mean as he or she likes to anyone who is not in their position.Each of the three main characters in Just Friends are unlikeable because their status is forced down our throats every time we try and bond with them. We might congratulate Chris on becoming a successful musical rep if he didn't brag so much about how wealthy he was or act in so much denial about his unrequited love for Jamie. Samantha is terribly written, with Anna Faris just being a spoilt brat who makes us want her to disappear from her first line. Even Jamie, who is relatively low down the social ladder, is a victim of this, with director Roger Kumble drawing attention to her status as a bartender as a lazy means of getting us to think she's okay.Character development in Just Friends is few and far between, and even when we do get it, it's rarely satisfying. The entire opening sequence, showing Chris as an overweight dork, is not only shallow in reducing love down to physical attraction, but deeply mean-spirited and really unfunny. More to the point, the whole crux of the film (Chris trying to confess his feeling to Jamie and them getting together) takes far too long to play out, and when they do finally get together, it feels like an act of exhausted surrender rather than something more edifying or uplifting.The opening sequence also raises a sadly common issue in Hollywood, namely its notion of what ugliness is. Kumble and screenwriter Adam 'Tex' Davis clearly believe that putting Ryan Reynolds in a fatsuit is automatically hilarious, counterpointing as it does Reynolds' good looks and charm (we'll get to that) with fatness, which in their book is inherently bad. If you found this device offensive in Shallow Hal, then you'll really have no time for it here. It's a cheap, offensive trick, designed to make the character look pathetic rather than take the time to properly build him up as something approaching a real person.Equally offensive, and much more pervasive, is the film's central conceit. The 'friend zone' (a term fittingly coined by the sitcom Friends) is a deeply sexist concept, implying as it does that any man who does nice things to a woman should be rewarded with a romantic and/ or sexual relationship with said woman. When Rob Reiner tackled the idea of friends falling in love in When Harry Met Sally, he gave its two players equal footing and explored the subject with intelligence. Here, we are expected to root for Chris on the grounds that he is owed love by Jamie, which belittles her and makes Chris both creepy and aggressive.Since we're on the subject of Chris, it's only fair that we should address the performance of Ryan Reynolds, one of the most overrated actors working in Hollywood today. While he has occasionally turned in a good performance (in Buried, for instance), for the most part Reynolds acts like a brand new wardrobe: nicely buffed, but also wooden, empty and completely hollow. He has no charisma, no comic timing, and is not in the least bit likeable, spending all his time either complaining or mugging to the audience. As his work in Green Lantern proved, he is perhaps the least suitable leading man that Hollywood has produced in the last two decades - though Hayden Christiansen may fight him for that title.The rest of the cast are either irritating by their own efforts or disappointing because of how little they bring to the table. Amy Smart acquitted herself perfectly well in Rat Race, but her she's pretty bland, reduced whether by the script, direction or a lack of confidence to just being smiley and care-free. Anna Faris, who would later excel in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, is as annoying here as she is in the Scary Movie series, screeching through her lines like a bad Saturday Night Live sketch. The supporting cast are mostly unmemorable, with Chris Klein having to play the Phil Hartman role in Jingle All The Way, but without the talent or charisma.Most of the humour in Just Friends is derived from laughing at the characters' misfortunes. Kumble goes to great and bloody lengths to humiliate Chris and Samantha, taking jokes that might ave worked in an episode of South Park and removing any aspect of them that could be funny. It may be that Kumble is more at home in the darker, more twisted end of comedy, having come to prominence as the director of Cruel Intentions, a teen take on Dangerous Liaisons. In any case, his aptitude for publicly humiliating his characters is at odds with the feel-good atmosphere the rom-com plot is trying to generate.On top of all this, the film is very dull and repetitive. In my review of Beverly Hills Cop III, I commented that boring films are the hardest to defend, because they are not even memorably offensive enough to justify themselves (i.e. they are worth having as a baseline, below which we should not hope to drop). If Just Friends was merely creepy or offensive, or even annoying, it may have been possible to argue its case in this manner. But for better or worse, it's no Sex and the City.Most of this boredom comes from the fact that the plot is inexplicably drawn out. Even with all my comments about character development, the plot of Just Friends is at best suitable for a half-hour TV episode. Had it been an episode of Friends, for instance, the characters would have milked the conceit dry and then either tied things up or left it open for a recurring character to come back later in the series. Here, we get 30 minutes of plot strung out by increasingly stupid ploys by Chris to get Jamie to change her mind, none of which are credible and all of which are either tedious or irritating.On top of everything else, the film is visually unimpressive. Anthony B. Richmond started off his career in exciting fashion, shooting Don't Look Now and The Man Who Fell To Earth for Nicolas Roeg, and later working with The Who on The Kids Are Alright. But ever since the early-2000s, when he lensed Legally Blonde, he seems to have got stuck in a rut with plastic, vapid rom-coms. Here his lighting choices and camera angles are stale and predictable, draining out whatever energy Kumble was attempting to bring to proceedings.Just Friends is a rubbish rom-com which succeeds in being creepy, sexist or boring far more often than it manages to be funny. Ryan Reynolds adds this role to his roster of unconvincing, uncharismatic leading men, and Kumble's direction is both mean-spirited and unengaging. While it's ultimately too boring to make you physically sick, it is another sad indictment of the way that Hollywood deals with romance and relationships.
(au) wrote: Disney is known for its triumphant takes on myths, fairy tales, and legends. This movie, based on the real life newsboy strike of 1899 is none of the above. While very entertaining, (who doesn't love seeing young Batman angrily tap dance his way across Manhattan) the singing leaves you wanting more. But what it lacks in choral talent it makes up for in a good storyline, attractive leads, fabulous dancing, and lots of homoerotic subtext. If you've got the time, watch it