Saturday, August 30, 2008

More Faris

Just Friends is a surprisingly bitter movie. Not that it's attitude towards its characters is particularly contemptuous (the Mom, perhaps) but that it's spurred along by deep-seated resentment. As a result the film is a bit all-over the place: part Farrellyesque body comedy, part teen movie sentimentalism, part small town winter wonderland romp (cf. Groundhog Day, Trapped in Paradise, Home for the Holidays). Regarding the seething emotions that justify the entire story, it should come as no surprise that the director was the same guy who "covered" Les Liaisons dangereuses.

The story goes that Ryan Reynolds was a sensitive fat kid in high school, in love with his oblivious, slightly aloof best friend (Amy Smart). He leaves his Central Jersey hometown in shame, and ten year's later he's a slim, charming, vapid ladies' man with a high-paying job in show biz. He's meant to court a manic, untalented, hot young pop star (a slightly exaggerated Avril Lavigne/Ashlee Simpson type) so that she agrees to sign her next record with his company. En route to a romantic Parisian weekend at her insistence, the plain is forced to land in Trenton ... over Christmas ... and Reynolds will visit his hometown for the first time since he graduated from high school. You see where all this ends up going. You probably can figure out 95% of the plot and 75% of the gags simply from this description. (Hint: Chris Klein has a role, too, and he also went from being "not hot" in high school to "hot" in his late 20s.) How tacked-on are the emotional progressions of all the characters, though? Normally in movies like this, which press the sentimental romance button at appropriate times (as this one does), there's at least an attempt to finesse out some kind of an emotional arc. Not here. The only appropriate word to describe the "emotional core" of the bond described to us between Reynolds' protagonist and Smart's object of affection is clusterfuck.

* * *

So why did I really watch this movie? Anna Faris! She doesn't reach the same heights as she does in Smiley Face, but as in The Hot Chick she has a "scene-stealing" presence. (In fact, in The Hot Chick Faris herself plays the "best friend" with romantic inclinations toward her BFF.) Here she plays none other than the pop star Samantha. What makes the performance so rewarding is that she acts as though she were in a movie and she's constantly flummoxed by the fact that the plot is always moving away from her. Her little tics, her movements, her schizophrenic consciousness blurted out from moment to moment. I mean, Faris is making Samantha act this way, as part of the character who knows and acts as if she were in a movie or tv show. It's a level of meta that the rest of the film doesn't really approach.


Landon said...

Saw "The House Bunny" last week. The film gets tired of its own schtick after about 45mins, but Faris is hilarious despite that she's given very little to work with. Some spontaneous moments that seem improvised were the funniest parts of the film, especially her facial expressions. The blank look on her face in the poster makes me laugh out loud, and reminds me of the "40 Year Old Virgin" one-sheet. While "House Bunny" is largely uninspired, contrived and also troubling (it's message is basically that you can be yourself, but only if you sell out first), I hope its financial success allows more opportunities for this great comic talent to shine.

Her funniest line: "Are you a good witch or a bad witch? I think you're a bad witch. The house that falls on you is going to be a sexy house!"

Anonymous said...

Zach, you've picked out one of the great moments of SMILEY FACE - that rolling out of the 'endangered' car - and a most intriguing level of the otherwise pretty mediocre JUST FRIENDS; Faris' 'meta' level, as you put it. It really makes me wonder how much she contributes herself to these films in the invention of these gestures, these levels: Anna Faris as auteur! Well, better than plenty of other jokers who pretend to the label these days ...

Anonymous said...

The scene with the toothpaste is just . . . a revelation! All the tedium is worth this moment!!! :)

"Anna Faris as auteur!" - love that< Adrian!

ZC said...

Will I see The House Bunny in theaters? I doubt it--but I do think I want to see it. I have My Super Ex-Girlfriend in the mail from Netflix.

Re: Faris as auteur (from mostly supporting roles, no less!)--she's also executive producer on The House Bunny.