There are lots of great Christmas comedy movies out there that we're all too familiar with. Classics like Christmas Vacation, Scrooged, and A Christmas Story have become holiday season traditions as popular as peppermint-flavored treats and Santa Claus himself. But there's another Christmas flick that's become a required annual viewing in December for me over the past decade. It's a highly underrated movie that not nearly enough people have watched, and it's easy to see why.
Just Friends had a lot going against it when it was released in 2005. First off, you have this poster. While it certainly makes sense after you've seen the movie, it's not exactly a poster that's gonna have you rushing to theaters to check it out. It looks like a generic romantic comedy starring Ryan Reynolds in a fat suit that you'd forget about in an instant. The trailer doesn't capture the spirit of the movie by any stretch either, so allow me to do my best to sum it up for you:
Chris Brander (Ryan Reynolds) is a New Jersey kid in high school struggling with obesity and the unrequited love he has for his dream girl, Jamie Palamino (Amy Smart), who's kept him in the "friend zone" for ages. His other schoolmates eventually find out about it and tease the hell out of him, to the point where he decides to leave town and never come back. Cut to ten years later, now Chris is a lean, successful music industry rep... and extremely successful with the ladies as well. Naturally, the story brings him back to his hometown in the middle of winter, and to the girl of his dreams from high school. However, just because he's in shape and a big success, doesn't mean he's going to have an easy time winning over Jamie. After all, he has a psychotic client to handle in the form of pop sensation Samantha James (Anna Faris), along with some stiff suitor competition from another former high school outcast, Dusty Dinkleman (Chris Klein).
So yeah, while it still sounds like a typical romcom, there are some incredibly good laughs in the movie. Believe me, I was surprised as anyone to discover that Just Friends had a lot more going for it than what the poster and trailer led me to believe. With that in mind, allow me to further convince you to see this movie by sharing some of the best things about this highly underrated modern Christmas classic:
EXHIBIT A: THE SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION!
Shortly after returning home for the first time, Chris is going through the garage in search of his ice skates, when he stumbles upon his old collection of snow globes. He winds one up and hears it play "Jingle Bells" while lovingly pressing it up against his cheek like a long lost friend. In an instant, Chris is transported back to being the same geeky outcast that he tried to shed when he moved out to California. It's a very small moment in the movie, and a private one just for himself, but I've always loved it, because it shows how some things truly never change. We were all geeks in our youth, and we'll always be geeks to some extent as we grow older. Embrace your snow globes, people.
EXHIBIT B: THE SUGAR MOUNTAIN SUPREME!
When Chris and Jamie hang out for the first time in a decade, they go back to their old stomping grounds - the local town diner where they enjoyed many a meal. Rhonda, a waitress who's been working at the diner ever since they were in high school, immediately recognizes them (don't ask me how, since Chris looks completely different now) and tells Chris she has a surprise for him. A few minutes later she returns with his old favorite meal - The Sugar Mountain Supreme! It's a massive stack of pancakes covered in chocolate syrup, whipped cream, M&M's, sprinkles, and chocolate chips. Just looking at this wobbling, sugary monstrosity gives me diabetes. She reminds him that he used to be a "chubby bunny" and who loved this dessert, but he's an L.A. guy now who never eats sweets, so he just drinks his water instead.
Look, I moved out here ten years ago, and while there are people who avoid sweets like the plague, I am not one of them. Could I finish off the Sugar Mountain Supreme on my own? Absolutely not. Would I take a crack at it though? Absolutely! This is clearly one of those meals that becomes a local legend and puts a restaurant on the map as a must-see location for all visiting tourists. Food shows would visit this place just to see if they could woof down this flapjacks freakshow.
My suggestion? Host annual Just Friends viewing parties where you and your guests do your best to recreate the almighty Sugar Mountain Supreme, and then feast upon it like kings!
Also, how has IHOP not jumped on the opportunity to capitalize on this every year!?
EXHIBIT C: DUSTY DINKLEMAN!
As I mentioned earlier, Chris isn't the only one who has a big crush on Jamie. Back in high school, the one kid who was more awkward than him was Dusty Dinkleman, a stammering kid with bad acne who completely massacred the love song he wrote her on his guitar. Nowadays, however, he goes by the name Dusty Lee and he's got all the confidence and charisma in the world. On top of that, he's now working as a paramedic and even become quite the maestro at guitar... or as Chris puts it, "It's like he has fifteen fingers!"
As time goes on, Chris comes to realize that Dusty isn't the good-natured man he's presenting himself to be, but instead he's a "Jersey player" looking to get revenge on Jamie for turning him down back in high school. Of course, Jamie never notices this, but the ways that Dusty makes Chris always seem like the bad guy is absolutely classic. After all, he invites Chris' mom to go on a double date with him and Jamie, ensuring that Chris won't be able to get closer to Jamie.
Best of all, the kids in town love Dusty, and they boo Chris whenever he's near... especially after their scuffle during Dusty's community church performance. And the final insult to injury? As Chris is being dragged out of the church, Dusty mocks him by making a devil horns gesture with his hands (which nobody else notices, of course), and then pretends to pass out.
If you're ever frustrated about something, the only appropriate way to react is to clutch your fists and growl, "Dinkleman!"
EXHIBIT D: BROTHERLY LOVE!
Chris' teenage brother, Mike Brander, is another fantastic addition to the cast of Just Friends. As if Chris didn't have enough to deal with, his little brother is horny as hell for his client, and constantly insulting him about his past with jabs like, "You'll always be fat to me." Ten years have gone by, but as soon as Chris walks in the door, the sibling rivalry picks up right where they left off. Constantly slapping, berating, and physically assaulting one another, it's a relationship that's a lot of fun to watch. After all, Chris uses his little brother throughout the movie to distract his client, Samantha James, while he pursues a relationship with Jamie.
There's also a great running gag with his brother in which Mike will turn to Chris and say, "Little problem...", indicating that something has gone wrong. Only it's never a little problem, it's always something incredibly bad, yet Chris has nobody to blame but himself, because he left his younger brother (who only thinks with his lower half) in charge of things.
EXHIBIT E: CAROL BRANDER / MOM!
I mentioned Chris' mom once already, and for good reason - she's PERFECT. Carol Brander is the ultimate happy-go-lucky mom without a worry in the world. She's super excited to have her two boys around for the holidays, and she's blissfully ignorant about anything else going on in the world. Portrayed by Julie Hagerty, who most will recognize from movies like Airplane! and What About Bob?, she just rambles on in that completely innocent, high-pitched voice, never understanding what her kids are talking about. When one of her sons talks about how he was slapping the ham, she responds, "What ham did you slap? Not the one I just bought." Classic.
Then there's the way she tries encouraging Chris not to show off in an attempt to impress Jamie, and that he should just be himself. For some inexplicable reason, she then starts singing to him, "Be yourselllllllf, be yoursellllf, be yoursellllllllllf." Her singing "be yourself" doesn't appear to be referencing any preexisting song; she seems to suddenly get the idea in her head that her singing advice will motivate him to, well... be himself. And you know what? It's totally believable that a mom like Carol Brander would actually do something like that in real life.
Of all the mom laughs in the movie, however, my favorite has to be the running gag where she's constantly trying to get in touch with her friend, Joyce, on the phone. She never seems to get in touch with her, and it's not because Joyce isn't answering the phone, it's because Carol doesn't understand the technology behind telephones. Seriously. When her son is on the phone, she picks up and starts dialing and says, "Hello, Joyce? Joyce?" When Chris responds, she says, "Chris? What are you doing over at Joyce's house?" He then has to explain to her, "No Mom, I'm in the living room ten feet away from you, and I'm on the phone."
Later on, we see Chris checking his voice mail, and sure enough, one of the messages is from his confused mom saying, "Hello, Joyce? Joyce?" It's such a perfect way to convey her complete bewilderment when it comes to anything technological, but it's not handled in an insulting way. She's probably the most lovable character in the entire movie, and it's because she's so incredibly innocent and oblivious. Here's hoping Carol does get in touch with Joyce. God what I wouldn't pay to listen in on that conversation.
EXHIBIT F: CHRIS VS. THE SKULL CRUSHERS ICE HOCKEY TEAM!
Back in Los Angeles, Chris plays ice hockey on a regular basis, and is one of the best players in his league. Naturally, he figures he can impress Jamie with how good he's become if he takes her ice skating. Only problem is, he's given a pair of really crappy rental skates, so he's falling down constantly.
Making matters worse, they're invited to join in a "friendly" game of community ice hockey against another team of children. Seems like it would be harmless enough, until we see that the opposing team has jerseys which read "SKULL CRUSHERS" on them. They quickly live up to their name too, using their sticks to hack away at Chris' legs. Of course, none of the adults or referees notice this, and when Chris yells about them cheating, one of the little girls on the team takes her gloves off and picks a fight with him. He may be a great player back in LA, but in a game against children in New Jersey, he's the absolute worst player.
Wanting to prove to everyone that he doesn't suck, Chris gets fed up and smacks some kids as he rushes the goal to take a vicious slapshot. He does just that, but the put ricochets off the goal and smacks him straight in the mouth. Not only is he the worst player, but now he just knocked himself out and they had to call an ambulance for him. But his nightmare isn't even over.
They put him on a stretcher, but when he sees Dusty flirting with Jamie, he struggles to get free, and his stretcher breaks loose. It then goes flying down the hill like an Olympic bobsled, flips over in mid-air, and he lands face down. When the medics turn him over, he's crying in agony with a mouth full of blood and snow. Guess he should've taken his mom's advice about not trying to impress Jamie after all, eh?
EXHIBIT G: SAMANTHA JAMES!
If you've seen the movie, then you already knew Samantha James would make the cut in this article. For Chris, Samantha is the ultimate pop princess nightmare client - not an ounce of talent, dumb as dirt, completely insane, and dangerous as hell. It becomes clear from the moment we first see her that she's just completely out of her gourd as she attempts to record the vocal track one of her awful songs yet can't sing even close to the correct key, and then blames it on the studio techs. When she sees Chris, she jumps on him like a lion pouncing on its prey, and immediately starts making out with him. Or swallowing his face. It's honestly hard to tell.
Oh and speaking of her songs, you can't discuss Just Friends without talking about Samantha's new tune, "Forgiveness". Every time she performs it, you can see Chris in utter agony, doing everything he can to not tell her to shut the hell up, which would cost him his job. I mean, could you maintain your composure while someone sang these lyrics to you?
Does not mean compromising
Let's forgive and forget
And solve this African debt
Just like the cheshire cat, who says
"Meow, you're running out of time time time time time time, MEOW!"
Try not to judge too harshly. After all, these lyrics are coming from someone who nearly set her private jet on fire because she didn't know you can't put metal in a microwave. Fun fact: They actually recorded a full version of Forgiveness with orchestral accompaniment that you can listen to in the credits of the movie. And yes, it's just as stupid and ridiculous as you'd imagine.
Remember when I mentioned how Chris' younger brother Mike is always screwing up any situation he's left in charge of? Well, just imagine a horny teenager like Mike being left in charge of a crazy person like Samantha James, who also happens to be his biggest crush? The result of them being left alone would naturally be something like this:
In what's always been one of my favorite moments in the entire movie, Chris gets home and finds out that Samantha hit her head when she fell from the second floor of the local mall that Mike took her too after he accidentally shocked her with a stun gun. He then took her home, wrapped an ice pack on her head, and gave her some of his mom's vicodin. He also gave her a tube of toothpaste because, apparently in her delirium, she decided it'd be a good idea to devour it. While pummeling his brother and trying to have a phone call with his boss, Samantha rises up from behind him with one of the most gleefully psychotic glares I've ever seen captured on film. She then smooshes all the toothpaste in her mouth onto his cheek and all he can do is try to maintain his composure. The scene kills me every time, and big kudos to Anna Faris for creating such a perfectly heightened parody of a pop star.
EXHIBIT H: THE PALOMINO HOUSE CHRISTMAS DISPLAY!
Jamie's father, Mr. Palomino, is clearly a man who prides himself on having the best Christmas house display in all of New Jersey. Every year he puts up tons of lights and decorations to celebrate the occasion. And I gotta say, it is quite the spectacle. It's definitely the kind of house you'd get out of your car to photograph if you stumbled onto it. Snowmen, candy canes, and lit trees in the yard, animatronic Santa and reindeer on the roof, and even a giant set of Santa feet going down the chimney. This is no amateur operation by any means; this is the work of a man who has honed his Christmas craft over the years. Which makes my next point all the more hysterical...
EXHIBIT I: THE DESTRUCTION OF THE PALOMINO CHRISTMAS DISPLAY!
With Christmas Vacation, the Griswolds had a police SWAT team ruin much of their holiday decor; with Just Friends, the Palomino family faced a far more destructive force: Samantha James. When she learns that Chris has been having his brother Mike keep her distracted so he can spend time with Jamie, Samantha goes off the deep end. She hops in the car and drives it straight into the Palomino's yard while they're family is out front singing Christmas carols, destroying their fence, lights, and a bunch of snowmen in the process.
After confronting Chris and punching straight in the throat, she hops back in the car and peels out of their yard. Cue Mike informing his older brother, "Hey, Chris? Little problem..."
The bumper of the car snags a line of the Christmas lights from the front yard display, which it drags off with it, causing a chain of yuletide destruction that's absolutely glorious. Within moments of Samantha's car speeding off, a strand of lights nearly takes off grandma's head, rows of illuminated candy canes explode, a flaming reindeer falls from the roof and land within centimeters of an old man's crotch, and the big animatronic Santa Claus centerpiece catches ablaze. It's the kind of chaos and destruction that only Samantha James can leave in her wake.
And after nearly everything from the Christmas display is destroyed, we see the one remaining reindeer decoration fully engulfed in flames, being dragged down the street by Samantha's car. As the flaming reindeer vanishes into the winter night, all Chris can come up with to say as he stares in disbelief is, "Now there's something you don't see every day!"
I know this is a little thing, but it's something I noticed, and I've always appreciated whichever crew member decided to make it happen. The next day when Chris returns to the Palomino house and sees the charred remained of a once spectacular Christmas display, if you look to the left side of the screen you'll see that one of the ruined snowmen is now frowning instead of smiling. It's briefly on screen, but I've always thought it was the icing on the cake of this fantastically festive destruction.
So there you have it. If you haven't seen Just Friends already, I hope this article has you convinced that it's well worth watching. If you have seen it, what are some of your favorite things about it?
And I swear, by the moon and the stars in the sky...
it's worth taking the time to post your thoughts in the comments section below.
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