We’ve all been, or are currently, that 20-something that is completely lost in life, not knowing which way is up or which way is down, searching for that sign or answers to questions like; “What am I doing in life?” Will I ever get out of my current shitty situation?” “Why am I my own worst enemy?” When I started watching the movie Almost Friends, starring Freddie Highmore, Odeya Rush, Haley Joel Osment, Christopher Meloni, and Marg Helgenberger; I thought, “cool, a story that I can really relate to,” but it turns out that I was sadly mistaken. Fairly quickly into my viewing I could tell that this movie wouldn’t be the identifiable and meaningful piece of cinema that I had anticipated.
Right off the bat any kind of empathy that the viewer could muster up for Charlie (Highmore); a 20-something, post-grad with great potential to be the next Emeril Lagasse; but because he’s physically stuck living at home, working a dead end job at a movie theater and also mentally and emotionally stuck in life period; is immediately put to rest when ages are taken into account. Charlie, like I said is a “20-something, POST-grad,” while Amber (Rush), his love interest in the movie, is a HIGH SCHOOL senior.
Granted, it is never specified whether Amber has officially graduated yet (seeing as though one of the storylines about her character is that she is going to NYU in the fall) or if she’s still under the age of 18. With that being said, I just couldn’t get past the fact that someone thought that having a pre-college girl and post-college man be each other’s love interest was a good idea.
I don’t think that having Amber be a little older would have hurt the story in any way. Although, some things may have had to have been changed, it’s not as if had the filmmakers made those changes that the story would have just fallen apart. Now, I know that this may not even be something that the typical viewer may really think twice or even care about while they are watching this movie because their ages are so glossed over and you’re never really ever visually reminded about Amber’s young age (save for that one time that Charlie decides to show up at one of Amber’s boyfriend’s track meets at what I can only assume is a high school track). However, once you realize this it’s something that (I think) is pretty hard to ignore. When I realized this it was pretty much the only thing that I could really focus on whenever I saw the two of the them on screen together; it was just really weird to me.
Maybe I am making a bigger deal out of than I should (although, I don’t think that I am, I just put that in there because I’m sure someone’ll think that), but I just really didn’t appreciate the choice to have two different characters, in two different age brackets and stages of life fall for one another when that didn’t have to be the case.
In terms of other flaws that I noticed, the movie seemed to suffer from a lack of knowledge of the age of technique of “show don’t tell.” There were a few instances where showing what was wrong with a character instead of just telling us about their problems could and would have gone a long way for the story at hand. For example, it is made known to us that when Charlie was younger he was a pretty good chef, so good that he came in 2nd place at a cooking competition and could have made a thriving career out of it.
Now, in Charlie’s defense because in his current life he is at such a crossroads leading him to feeling disillusioned with the things that once brought him great joy and purpose, I think that by perhaps choosing to show flashbacks of happier times when he was cooking to juxtapose his boring and meaningless current existence and/or showing him attempting to find that magic again but ultimately falling short because of x, y, or z could have driven that point, of him being disillusioned with life, home a lot better; instead of just telling us that he participated in a cooking competition and that he’s randomly cooking dinner one night for the family.
There were also other instances where they would show to us or imply something without ever really exploring the idea or really backing it up. With Amber, one of the main conflicts that her character experiences is that of a bit of a love triangle. Her four year relationship that she has had with Brad is suddenly put to the test when she foolishly decides to entertain Charlie, even though it is apparent from the beginning that he likes her.
In the same way that there was failed empathy for Charlie, this is pretty much the case with Amber because we never really understand why is it that her current boyfriend is no longer satisfying her outside of the implied “well she’s just young and dumb” and her explicitly stating something along the lines of how she doesn’t know what she wants anymore. The latter could have worked for the story and her character had this been explored throughout the movie, but it’s not, so it doesn’t.
There was also the introduction of characters that were really unnecessary to the overall plot. Jack, Amber’s deadbeat cousin, and Howard (Meloni), Charlie’s deadbeat father, were so irrelevant to the story that the existence of their characters really just came across as something that added to the contrived feel that was felt throughout the entire movie. There were scenes in the movie that felt like they were just inserted for the sake of emotion and nothing else. It felt as if the writers, when going over the movie, looked at the script and said “ok, we need some kind of climatic moment here;” “we need tears here;” “we need anger and yelling here;” instead of it all connecting and allowing for the story to unravel before them; essentially letting it write itself, making it feel all the more authentic.
This movie could have been decent, but unfortunately it lacks in real substance and in any real direction. The acting was ok, but it wasn’t enough to really save this movie. Had they thought the story through a little more and actually really explored the trials and tribulations that we all go through when we realize that we don’t have it all figured out, it could’ve been a great testimony and survival guide for anyone that is now or will find themselves in that same predicament.
Almost Friends releases in theaters November 17, 2017