DVD Review - Almost Friends

Freddie Highmore used to be a child actor but he's 26 now. Yet, he still has a really boyish look about him. That look has afforded him well in his two major TV roles, Bates Motel and The Good Doctor. In one, he plays an infantile-minded, serial killer obsessed with his mother. In two, he plays an autistic surgeon-in-training. In either scenario, we don't think too much of him as a sexual being or the kind of romantic lead to whom many would gravitate. Arguably, this role is also supposed to be another awkward, lanky guy who's shy and a bit socially and emotionally stunted. Yet, at the same time, we're to believe that with very little effort or execution, he's also able to lure away a girl from her hunky and seemingly charming boyfriend who didn't appear to do anything wrong.

Written and directed by Jake Goldberger (Don McKay and Life of a King), this movie makes the fatal mistake of not making its romantic lead interesting or compelling. He's devoid of much of a personality, which can be explained away with him being shy, but the question has to be asked as to why anyone would be attracted or choose him over a ton of other guys. Goldberger doesn't really answer that question in a satisfying way or any way that makes much sense. No offense to the girl in question, but the reverse is true as well. The movie doesn't really explain what it is about her that makes the guy in question so obsessed over her, other than she's really pretty and if that's the case, then the movie is just superficial fluff.

Highmore stars as Charlie Brenner, a twenty-something living in Mobile, Alabama, with his mother, his stepfather and his half-brother. He laments that he's as old as he is and is still living with his mom. It's never explained why but given financial situations in general over the past decade, it's not too shocking. He works as an assistant manager at a movie theater, which one would think would afford him enough for an apartment either alone or with his best friend, Ben, played by Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense and A. I. Artificial Intelligence). Yet, he seems content though not content with his situation.

Odeya Rush (Lady Bird and Goosebumps) co-stars as Amber, a girl who is out of high school but hasn't yet gone to college, though she is planning to go to NYU. She's holding on going because she's waiting for her boyfriend who's hoping for a scholarship to an east coast school. Until he gets one, she's working at a coffee shop. She stays with her older cousin because her family moved away after her dad got a new job. She doesn't seem all that content about her situation, but it doesn't seem all that bad. Things change when Charlie rustles up enough courage to approach her one day in the coffee shop.

He pretends that his keys aren't his keys. Why is never explained. She holds onto them also inexplicably. He doesn't say anything clever. Later, in an awkward elevator moment, Charlie makes a funny comment that makes Amber laugh. No one else, not even Amber's boyfriend, laughs, which indicates that maybe Charlie and Amber share a sense of humor that no one else immediately gets, but that's really the only time Charlie makes a joke like that. He's playful with his little brother, but I don't see how that's enough to make her stray from her boyfriend to Charlie.

Maybe, I could see her doing it purely on a visceral level, if Charlie were being played by an actor with a bit more raw, sex appeal or overwhelming charisma like Nicholas Hoult, Timothée Chalamet, Dev Patel, Ansel Elgort, Tom Holland or John Boyega. All the aforementioned actors are under 30 and have made names for themselves in Oscar-nominated or blockbuster films recently. All of whom jump off the screen in ways that Highmore doesn't.

Taylor John Smith (Wolves and You Get Me) also co-stars as Brad, the boyfriend of Amber. He's the track star who's the fastest man in the state and is hoping to get a scholarship or recruited to some, major school. The movie doesn't delve into this story as it perhaps should have. The DVD has extra scenes, which aren't in the movie, but those extra scenes explain Brad's story more. Otherwise, it makes no sense why Amber turns away from him for Charlie. Brad seems perfect.

Goldberger's film posits that there needs to be no reason. Amber drifts to Charlie simply because he pops up all the time at her coffee shop or a party she's at. He doesn't need to do anything or say anything special. He can fumble his way into her heart and with little effort get her into bed. Yet, if she wants him for some reason that isn't logical because love rarely is, the least Goldberger could have done is provide a reason why Charlie would fall for Amber besides her being pretty. It's not clear what Amber's interests are or what she plans to study at NYU, or even if her interests attracted Charlie to her at all any way. We actually learn more about Ben who's studying to become a lawyer than we do about Amber.

Christopher Meloni (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Oz) plays Howard, the father to Charlie. Howard has a weird plot-line here that I didn't understand why it was here. Meloni's presence lends to some funny moments, including rear nudity from the still very handsome and ruggedly sexy, if not scruffy actor. Marg Helgenberger (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and China Beach) plays Samantha, the mother to Charlie. She gets to bounce off Meloni in a couple of scenes but other that, this film doesn't give her much to do.

Not Rated but contains language and rear male nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 41 mins.


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