Review by Justin Goodman
BFFs is perhaps not a one-of-a-kind Romantic Comedy, but it would deserve at least special mention on most lists. For certain, regular viewers of queer romcoms won’t find anything particularly powerful about it, but with its light infusion of slapstick coupled to a steady and authentic exploration of sexual fluidity, it’s still decades ahead of many of the tragically duplicable creations in the genre (I’m looking at you Friends With Benefits and No Strings Attached). This is partially the chemistry between the cast members, which gives many of the scenes a liveliness the camera often fails to provide, but it’s equal parts the writing of Andrea Grano and Tara Karsian, who play lead roles Samantha and Kat respectively, that keeps steady even when its boat is rocking wildly. Rock it does.
On her birthday, Kat’s mother buys her a trip to a couple’s therapy camp. The explicit suggestion is for Kat to take her boyfriend—who we learn later is now, in fact, her ex—so Samantha, her friend of 10 years, decides they should go together as a couple. Placate the mother, have a good weekend, and maybe a good laugh. This opening is treated like a weak set up to a great punch line: It’s sloppy, unexplained, and unimportant except to establish the joke. A brother-in-law(?) whose character revolves around wealth, masculinity, and privilege opens the film talking to Kat about his stallion impregnating his neighbor’s mare. The neighbor, obviously, complains. His defense of the behavior circles around the idea that you have to treat horses “like retarded children.” While thematically tangential, it fails to convey the style of humor actual to BFFs.
Once Samantha and Kat arrive at the villa—Sam portraying Kat to the counselors as mildly neurotic, Kat portraying Sam to the counselors as a nymphomaniac—the conversations, confrontations, and comedy tend to circle around validating the experience of group counseling instead of crassly mocking wealthy dudes. J.K. (Sean Maher) and Jonah (Russell Sams), a gay couple with hopes of adopting, at one point struggle with a trust exercise. Instead of focusing on the oddity of placing an egg on a traffic cone blindfolded, the scene turns into the couple acting out their fears and frustrations on each other (because forcing people to be dependent invites distrust). One of the counselors, Bob (Patrick O’Connor), suggests they cluck like chickens to express their feelings. Half of the joke is the couple’s reaction; half of the joke is they eventually resolve their conflict by clucking apologetically.
Which is to say that BFFs doesn’t portray itself as laugh out loud comedy. The romantic threats are real as loss reveals itself again and again, even at the beginning when, during the second activity of the getaway, one of the couples leaves with irreconcilable differences. This is when the group shares their first heartbreaks, during which Sam explains that her first boyfriend (at 15) broke up with her at an ACDC concert and that she can never listen to ACDC again. Kat then reveals that her father used to sing “Leaving on a Jet Plane” before they went to bed, and one night he didn’t come back. He’d left her family to start a new one. The touch of levity the comedy provides is simple and, appropriately, inadequate to compensate the loss: “If ACDC ever decides to cover ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane, we’re screwed,” Kat says.
And while I share the same complaint about Kat’s father problems as I do her mother troubles, what never vanishes from sight is most important. Sam and Kat gradually grow to soften to one another (not that they weren’t friends, but there was a discernable reluctance towards one another). During a sexuality exercise, each couple must pose in a manner that seems most fitting, According to the other counselor, Jacqueline (Sigrid Thornton), the pose can represent the foundation of the relationship: “Trust, Lust, or Conflict.” All three are authentic approaches to love. Kat, however, has Sam in a bear hug from behind which lacks any semblance to any of the three. Jacqueline, parting them, has them hug and stare into each other’s eyes. On January 9th of 2015, the NYTimes posted an article titled, “To Fall In Love With Anyone, Do This.” “This” is staring into each other’s eyes and familiarizing yourself with the other. This is no less true for Sam and Kat.
You can tell, by the last half hour, that the movie becomes intense by how the comedy becomes increasingly silly. It’s around this time that the oldest couple, still sexually ripe, is seen running across the lawn barely clad in bath towels, to the dismay of the couples seeing it. Yet the zaniness doesn’t offset what has become a transition into emotional turmoil that had, whether known or not, been building beneath rumbles of that old man talking about “orgasms so deep I cried.” Which, oddly, is the perfect image to represent BFFs. It’s expected, thrilling, enjoyable for what it is, and yet there are also the tears that come from any sincere experience. What it may lose in hindsight it retains in consideration, and the greatest part is not it happening at all, but that it’s a true expression of a true love.
On iTunes, Amazon and InDemand now.