"Almost Friends" is the story of Charlie, young man in his mid-twenties who lives at home with his family and works at a movie theater, despite the fact that his only real goal in life is to open his own restaurant. Charlie's humdrum life is shaken up by his pursuit of Amber, a local barista who he has feelings for, and by the visit of his biological father.
Everything you need to know about Charlie (Freddie Highmore, The Good Doctor) and Amber (Odeya Rush, "Goosebumps") is presented in the opening scene, when we see Charlie's best friend Ben (Haley Joel Osment, Silicon Valley) giving him a pep talk before he walks into a coffee shop to ask Amber out. He decides against it out of fear, is immediately presented with a follow up opportunity, and decides against it again. The two do eventually become friends, but at such a pace and lack of payoff that it's worth asking, why bother?
Highmore and Rush's portrayals are believable, but at no point do they really take over their roles and make the viewer actively root for them. Instead, it is the secondary characters that provide any saving graces that can be found. Osment's Ben is a far more interesting and likeable character than the two leads, despite having limited screen time. He is constantly prodding Charlie to do more, encouraging him, driving him around - including to Louisiana on a moment's notice - and doing his best to take the awkwardness out of Charlie's interactions.
The same can be said of Charlie's other good friend, Heather (Rita Volk, Faking It). She is always going out of her way to encourage and buck Charlie up, despite having her own life to manage. In fact, her fledgling romance with Amber's cousin Jack (Jake Abel, "The Host"), is far more interesting than Amber and Charlie's and would have made for more compelling subject matter.
The real gem of this movie, though, is Christopher Meloni (Law & Order: SVU) as Charlie's biological father, Howard. He arrives as a hurricane of energy, stirring things up emotionally for the cast. He is a classic hustler: fast talking, charming, confident; he even has a splash of grease in his hair. But Meloni is clearly acting in a different movie altogether. His over the top portrayal and energy are completely at odds with the main tone of the film and are never matched by anyone else he shares the screen with, which is unfortunate, as Howard is the highlight of the film.
It is tough to decipher writer-director Jake Goldberger's intent with this film. So many of the characters and scenes are played with a straightness and lack of flourish that one could not help but think of Italian Realism. But then, seemingly at random, characters are introduced and scenes are presented that could only be products of Hollywood, and these incongruities leave the film feeling unbalanced.
"Almost Friends" seems to struggle to find its feet with regard to story and tone. More focus on the secondary characters may have helped, but nothing could really have been done to make this movie memorable.
|Movie title||Almost Friends|
|Summary||This slow burn of a romantic comedy about a former chef and a barista never quite manages to turn on the gas.|