DVD Review - Just Friends (Pride Month 2019)

June is Pride Month, the month that was established to promote LGBT rights and celebrate that same community. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in 1969, which most agree was the start of the gay rights movement in the United States. There are various events happening in New York City, the home of Stonewall, to commemorate the anniversary. Some of those events include film screenings. The golden anniversary has made me want to spotlight queer films or television programs that have recently been released within the past year. They include Pose on FX, Alex StrangeloveTransMilitaryEvening ShadowsWe Are Thr3eSorry AngelSpecialBooksmart and Rocketman.

This film was broadcast on Netherlands TV back in March 2018. Wolfe Video, which distributes LGBT movies in the United States, played this title at various film festivals before releasing it on home video in the USA in April of this year. I think this film is a good film to spotlight because unlike a lot of gay films that I've spotlighted and that have indeed come out, this film isn't about homophobia in the slightest. It almost gets away with having no homophobia in the film at all, except there is a brief scene, which shows that gay slurs aren't totally absent. Other than that, this movie could be described as "post-gay," which is a film where the main characters are gay without having to identify as gay, let alone defend it. It's mostly been TV shows that have been post-gay. Few films, especially few mainstream films have been that progressive.

It would make sense if this film was totally absent of homophobia. It's set in the Netherlands, a country that is one of the most progressive in Europe and the world. It's also very gay-friendly, having been the first country in Europe to legalize gay marriage in 2001. In terms of other gay rights, there is near total equality across the board. Polling indicates that most people in the Netherlands accept and have no problem with its queer citizens. When it comes to other types of citizens, that might be another matter, but, for the most part, homosexuality and two men being in love is not something to doubt or debate in the country or in this story.

Josha Stradowski stars as Joris Wierijn, a young man who could be between the ages of 17 and 22. Joris still lives at home with his mother and sister. His father passed away when Joris was younger, but, for some reason, the first act of the film involves Joris getting his father's remains in an urn. Joris and his sister are in mourning, but Joris's mom is upset because his dad cheated on her. This apparently caused a split and some estrangement. Joris loves his mom, but he feels disconnected from his father and is drifting or coasting as a result. His plans about university or work don't appear to be on his mind. He doesn't do a lot of socializing. He doesn't appear to have a lot of friends or any friends, other than his sister. He instead hangs out by himself, riding his motorcycle and shooting video on his drone, which he remotely controls.

Majd Mardo co-stars as Yad Mousa, a young man whose age is 26. Yad is a Syrian immigrant. His parents settled in a city called Almere, which is only a half-hour away from Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands. Yad left home to go to university in Amsterdam. He grows sick of studying and returns home. His mom makes it clear though that he can't live at home for free. She wants him to go back to school, but he decides to get a job. He becomes a kind of nurse working for old people in Almere. He's mostly just an assistant, helping to clean up after them. His main client is an septuagenarian who just happens to be the grandmother to Joris.

Once the two boys meet, it's an instant, unspoken connection. The film from that point is mainly about underscoring the homoeroticism between the two. Most of it stems from Yad gazing at Joris who is close to being an Adonis. Many of Joris' scenes involve him in the gym, sweating and flexing his muscles. There's even a scene where Joris goes shirtless and is gardening at his grandmother's place. The sensuality and intensity are very much accentuated here. A scene where the two boys lie in the grass and knowingly or not re-create the upside-down kiss from Spider-Man (2002) is beautiful and tender. A scene toward the end where Joris walks around drunk and naked is provocative and raw. The film also seems to have a nice grasp on how Millennials connect, either through video on their phones, texting and even through Spotify.

The two boys live in a city, but the majority of the scenes are done without any depiction of the urban center. We don't see any tall buildings or congestion like traffic. Most of the scenes are done along the coast of a lake, in view of windmills. With a bit of a remove, the feeling of this film can be similar to several gay male films from various countries. One can see parallels to Call Me By Your Name (2017), except the sex scene here among wind-sails is more satisfying. It also goes a little further than another gay film from the Netherlands, that of Mischa Camp's Boys (Jongens) (2015).

Camp's film was about a boy discovering his same-sex attraction. The boy was still in high school. Here, both boys are older, so they're already fully aware of their sexuality. Boys was only a couple of years ago, but it did grapple with homophobia a bit. Despite the country as a whole being gay-friendly, Boys centers on two school athletes and when it comes to sport, there's still a lasting homophobia, whether perceived or not, no matter the country. That provided the backbone for the dramatic conflict, the tension of the film.

The dramatic conflict or tension here is not homophobia. Instead, the dramatic conflict could be racism. Joris' mom at first is taken aback at the sight of Yad. She doesn't mind that her son is gay and dating a man. She minds that he's dating an Arab. It's not clear if he's Muslim, but he is from Syria. She sees Yad as a dirty refugee. There have been several Oscar-nominated documentaries about the Syrian war, which is resulting in a lot of refugees. Those refugees are then perceived to be a blight, a burden or possibly a danger. This bigotry toward Arab or Muslim people isn't played up as much as it is in Mikko Makela's A Moment in the Reeds (2018), a gay male film about a young man from Finland falling in love with a Syrian immigrant too, though one that immigrated at an older age.

Yet, despite xenophobia or the racism inherent here being the dramatic conflict, that conflict is still rather understated. It's supposed to be the issue that comes between the two boys. It does, but again it's so understated, which is probably more realistic. Unfortunately, it makes the film feel more inert. The ending involving how Joris achieves closure with his late father is also dramatically inert. It's a sweet scene, but it's perhaps too subtle in whatever issue Joris had with or about his father. There was also a sub-current about Joris' grandmother and her experiences with Nazis during the Holocaust that are too understated to have had an impact here either.

Yet, the film is too beautiful and sexy to be ignored. Stradowski is certainly a gorgeous talent to keep an eye on. His only other available work is a short film called Caged, which was another gay narrative that was part of Britain's Peccadillo Pictures' series Boys on Film.

Gewoon Vrienden
Not Rated but contains nudity and intense sexuality.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 24 mins.

Also available on VOD.


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