Image courtesy of www.impawards.com
Anna Faris……….Samantha James
In life, there are many people we look to as those who have altered our course and our destiny. For better or worse there are a handful of people in everyone’s lives that can be pointed to as part of the inspiration for who we become and how we live our lives. And for Chris (Ryan Reynolds), it was his high school best friend and secret crush Jamie (Amy Smart).
In high school Chris was a fat kid who had an unrequited crush on Jamie, the beautiful cheerleader who viewed Chris as her best friend. When his plan to win her heart through the power of the yearbook verse falls flat, and leads to humiliation from the football team, he vows to leave his home state of New Jersey until he becomes a “winner.”
Just Friends follows Chris’s victory lap of sorts. After leaving Jersey he has shed a hundred pounds, gone to a hair salon and become a high-powered music executive. Charged with securing the services of the latest “it” girl Samantha James (Anna Faris), Chris’s plane flight to Paris takes a detour to Jersey and back to his hometown. Walking into the local brewery, he runs into Jamie tending bar. Having since become a bit of a lothario since his rejection from her, her visage stirs long lost feelings inside him as he vows to try and win her affections in an attempt to prove something to himself. Throw in the usual romantic comedy styling of the “best friends who become lovers” sublet of the genre and it’d be easy to have another awful film featuring Ryan Reynolds. But shockingly enough Just Friends is a rather charming film that manages to be quite entertaining.
And, shockingly enough, it’s Reynolds who provides most of the film’s charm and subtle humor. While relying a lot upon physical comedy, Reynolds does something he normally doesn’t do too successfully: he’s comfortable with the character. Most times he’s over the top or trying too hard to be funny; he seems to have found some great material and lets it guide him.
Chris is a guy with the eternal chip on his shoulder, metaphorically speaking. He has it all, is envied by the townsfolk who were the same classmates who mocked him in high school, and yet there’s a sense in the character that all his womanizing is more for show than it is part of who he is. He’s been out to prove with each conquest that no woman will turn him down in that same manner again; it’s a jaded sort of bitterness that’s hard to show in the confines of a comedy. Reynolds mixes some dramatic chops required of the genre and meshes them with some funny (though repetitive) physical comedy for a truly three dimensional character.
Amy Smart shows she can hold her own with Reynolds as Jamie. As the “dream girl” of Chris’s life, there’s a certain sort of parody that often goes into the role. Her Jamie is much more developed and well-rounded than a lot of characters in the genre; she’s not there to be “won” or to simply be a lustful object, she’s a person with feelings and motivations that are easy to understand.
The comedy, however, is not quite as even-handed as the sort of characters given to Reynolds and Smart. While the slapstick nature of the film is quite humorous most times, there are plenty of times where it becomes old or repetitive. There’s only so much slapstick humor that can be inserted into a film before it grows tiresome; Roger Kumble tries to mix his humor up and insert some dryness into it, but the familiar shtick of someone getting hit coupled with the adherence to formula the film has takes away a lot from what is a genuinely charming film.