[Review] Just Friends

Well this was a pleasant surprise. You never quite know what you’re getting when you start a gay-themed romantic movie. Will it be about struggling with one’s sexuality? Will it be about the societal pressures about being gay? Will it be good? Bad? Deal with homophobia? Be about homophobia? Who’s going to die? Get beaten up? Forced out of a relationship because society deems it lesser? It’s pretty depressing when you think that the above covers a majority of the gay films I’ve seen.

Truthfully, the number of gay-themed movies I’ve seen that have a happy ending are few and far between. Additionally, most of them are about coming out or trying to exist in a heteronormative world. So it was a very nice surprise that Just Friends sidesteps most of these tropes and presents a very typical rom-com.

As the movie opens, fitness-obsessed jock Joris (Josha Stradowski), his plastic-surgery aficionado mom Simone (Tanja Jess) and his older/married sister Moon (Melody Klaver) are finally picking up the remains of the father figure in the family at the mortuary. The ashes have been sitting at the mortuary for years, apparently, as no one has wanted to pick them up, for a variety of reasons. Joris’ father apparently cheated numerous times on mom Simone, so she wants nothing to do with them. In fact, the only reason they’re there is because it’s becoming a financial burden to apparently pay the mortuary to hold them.

His sister doesn’t want them, either. So it falls on Joris to carry his father’s ashes. But he can’t let go of the past. He has very fond memories of his father, which we see through a variety of flashbacks. When he tries to spread the ashes at the side of the ocean, he hesitates and then ultimately keeps the urn. In fact, the urn kind of becomes another character, of sorts, as it gets passed from family member to family member. No one in the family has the ability (or desire) to be rid of them.

Meanwhile, Yad (Majd Mardo) has just returned from medical school in Amsterdam where he partied a little too hard and has returned to his childhood home to lick his wounds, as he decides what his future will hold. Because he needs a job and has medical training, he ends up working as a caretaker for a spunky elderly woman named Ans (Jenny Arean) who just so happens to be Joris’ grandma.

A meet cute happens between the two very handsome men at the grandma’s house. Joris takes off his shirt as he trims his grandma’s hedges and Yad, seeing an opportunity, brings him a beverage. They ooze chemistry, even if Joris doesn’t seem to want to admit it. A bit later, they bond over the music of Sufjan Stevens, sharing an ear bud to listen together. Getting closer and closer. Yad closes his eyes, enjoying the music, while Joris watches him intently.

It’s the whole opposites attract thing. Yad is a freewheeling bohemian (who kind of looks like Nick Jonas in some angles), who is comfortable in his body. Joris (who kind of looks like Wentworth Miller or Max George) is tightly coiled and uncomfortable in his own skin, so works out and drinks protein shakes with abandon. But they both share over-bearing moms. They’re two parts of a puzzle, just waiting to fit together. What follows is pretty typical romantic comedy stuff. To quote Janet Jackson’s “Free Xone”: Boy meets boy; boy loses boy; boy gets cute boy back.

(Now make it mellow)

The acting and characters of Just Friend are fun and breezy. I particularly cared for Ans, Joris’ sassy, meddling grandma. She immediately sees the sparks of attraction between the two and, with a sparkle in her eye, does everything in her power to nudge them together. Meanwhile, Yad’s effervescent little sister notices a post of the two boys on Instagram and pressures Yad to “heart” it as a way of showing affection towards Joris. Joris’ mom, meanwhile, hasn’t gotten over her late, cheating husband. She’s become obsessed with plastic surgery and always has alcohol in hand. None of the characters really have much in the way of character development, outside of Joris, who gets out of his shell and allows himself to fall in love.

What I loved about Just Friends is that it’s not a coming out story. Both men are out and relatively proud with their families and their situation allows them to be affectionate in public. And while it doesn’t shy away from homophobia, it also isn’t about “being gay.” One scene involves Joris getting up in the face of a group of bigots calling them slurs and his resort to violence leads to the couple’s first fight. But that’s about the extent of any perceived homophobia. Even the parents, who don’t necessarily approve of the other boy, do so out of other prejudices, namely racism and xenophobia.

Racism and xenophobia briefly makes its appearance. Yad is Syrian and that becomes an issue for Joris’ mom Simone, who makes racist remarks to Ans, the grandma, about how she can’t trust Yad to take care of her or her belongings. While Yad’s mom doesn’t approve of Joris, but it seems to be less about him being a dude than it is about him not being the right kind of dude. But Yad’s dad is incredibly supportive and sexuality is never an issue. Which means that, for once, we have a romantic comedy that just so happens to be about two handsome men falling in-and-out-and-in love.

So yes, Just Friends is a fun, delightful romantic comedy. It’s sweet and the actors are winsome. Is it perfect? No. The story is incredibly predictable and a bit paint-by-numbers because it completely falls into romantic comedy tropes. But honestly? I’m perfectly fine with that. It brought a smile to my face and that’s just what I need right now, in my gay romances.

Besides, as a character says in the movie, “The world world’s a mess but we have to keep laughing.”