Editor’s note: Do the Christmas classics still hold up in 2020? We take a look.
One of the greatest joys of the holiday season is the heap of festive movies that comes with it. There’s really nothing quite like the feeling of curling up with a blanket, hot cocoa in hand and watching a classic Christmas movie. But in a world with dozens of streaming services offering us hundreds of holiday titles to choose from, picking the right movie can feel like a bit of a chore at times.
For this review, I decided to add in a holiday movie report card where I will take a Christmas movie, break it down into appropriate categories and grade it to determine whether you should stream it or skip it this holiday season.
First up is “Just Friends,” a holiday rom-com from 2005 staring Ryan Reynolds, Amy Smart and Anna Faris. We’ve broken the movie down into five categories: story, cast, romance, comedy and (of course) holiday spirit. Let’s see how it fared.
The story: C
“Just Friends” stars Reynolds as Chris Brander, a nerdy and overweight high schooler who grows up to become a dashing, womanizing record executive. While Chris is accompanying America’s hottest pop star Samantha James (played by Faris) on a flight to Paris, the plane is unexpectedly grounded mere miles from where Chris grew up. So, with Samantha at his side, Chris finds himself back home for the holidays for the first time in 10 years. While he’s there, he attempts to rekindle a relationship with Jamie Palomino (played by Smart), a girl who Chris always loved while he was in high school, but she “friend-zoned” him at a graduation party.
Will Jamie give Chris a second chance now that he’s handsome? Or will Samantha (who also loves Chris) ruin the chance for true love to blossom? These are the questions posited in the plot of just friends. More or less, we have the makings of a classic love triangle story and, I mean c’mon, who doesn’t love a good love triangle story?
Additionally, the idea of someone returning to their hometown to reckon with their past demons is also compelling, but this particular narrative repetitively gets trapped in the “Chris used to be overweight and now he’s fit” plot point. There’s a lot of content here that, by today’s standards, we’d call “fat-shaming,” and that’s just the beginning of the story’s problems. We’ll cover more when we get to the romance section.
The cast: B
It almost feels as if the Chris Brander role was written with Reynolds in mind. “Just Friends” is playing to basically all of his strengths. He’s given plenty of opportunities to deliver witty, sarcastic one-liners a la “Deadpool,” and his trademark “Sexiest man alive”-winning handsomeness is practically a necessity for the story to work. The script overindulges in physical comedy (more on that later), and that’s another arena where Reynolds is incredibly effective.
Smart is, in this writer’s opinion, an incredibly underrated actress, but this story doesn’t offer her much to work with. In “Just Friends” the focus is always on Chris, so Smart’s turn as Jamie Palomino is never given the space to shine through.
Anna Farris is a tornado as Samantha James, and she’s hands-down the most memorable character in the movie. She’s loud, reckless, violent and egotistical. Faris has her dialed up to 11 in every scene. The Samantha James character also acts as the movie’s comedic gauge; if you don’t find her humorous, either turn off the movie or buckle up for a long 94 minutes.
It’s also worth mentioning that Julie Haggerty, of “Airplane!” acclaim, plays a small role as Chris’s mom in “Just Friends” and she’s absolutely delightful. With just a few minutes of screen time, Haggerty delivers some of the movie’s strongest comedic moments.
The entire romantic premise of “Just Friends” is constructed around the problematic notion known as “friend zone.” If you haven’t spent much time considering the potential dangers inherent in that term, Deseret News published an article about it. But for starters, if a man says a woman “friend-zoned” him, the phrase alone suggests that the woman is at fault for not finding him romantically attractive.
But troublesome plot conceits aside, Reynolds and Smart’s screen time together just isn’t very captivating to watch. It’s not because they aren’t talented actors (they are), but rather their relationship lacks substance. Smart’s character is positioned more like a trophy for Chris to win and not a partner to connect with. When “Just Friends” finally reaches its “happily ever after” moment, there’s no emotional payout for the viewer because there weren’t really any emotional stakes in the journey.
It needs to be understood that “Just Friends” is more of a spiritual companion to movies like “Without A Paddle” and “The Hot Chick” than something like “How to Lose A Guy in Ten Days.” Don’t let the poster fool you! This movie cares so much more about slinging jokes than delivering satisfactory romance.
At its best, “Just Friends” provides audiences with a few moments of genuine laugh out loud humor but at its worst, the jokes can be downright problematic. The script is plagued with more than a few homophobic, fatphobic and racist punchlines that make 2005 feels like an eternity ago.
Fortunately for everyone involved, the bulk of this movie’s comedic offerings are presented in the form of slapstick. Reynolds and Faris make great use out of a taser, toothpaste and a medical sled, but after awhile, the physical comedy grows tiresome. Physical comedy can be incredibly effective when used wisely and sparingly. Even until the movie’s end, all the hitting, tackling, slapping, pushing and biting never relents, but — given the choice between unfunny slapstick and deplorable punchlines — give me the unfunny slapstick every time.
Holiday spirit: C-
In the world of “Just Friends,” the Christmas season is really nothing more than pretty set dressing. With the exception of one gloriously destructive Christmas caroling scene, this entire story could unfold in a different time of the year. The movie had the presence of mind to show off snowy landscapes and decorated houses, but it wasn’t quite thoughtful enough to explore the reason behind the season. You’ll hear a couple of Christmas tunes and watch a couple of snowballs thrown, but this isn’t really a Christmas movie. I’d feel much more comfortable calling this “a movie that happens to take place during Christmas.”
Final grade: C-
If you’re looking for a quality holiday rom-com to stream this season, you’d better look elsewhere. This one just doesn’t provide nearly enough satisfying rom-com or holiday cheer to justify its runtime.