FILM REVIEW – ALMOST FRIENDS. With Freddie Highmore, Odeya Rush, Christopher Meloni, Marg Helgenberger, Haley Joel Osment. Written and directed by Jake Goldberger. Rated PG-13 for violence and thematic elements. 101 minutes.
ALMOST FRIENDS is an amiable romantic comedy focusing on Charlie (Freddie Highmore), a young twenty-something whose life has stalled, and Amber (Odeya Rush), a high school senior he falls in love with in spite of the fact that she already has a boyfriend. We’ve seen this story: he’s a lovable misfit with a quirky sense of humor, she’s stunning-but-smart and seems to be taken for granted by the boyfriend. You can see where this is going from a mile away.
What makes it a pleasant film to watch (and it’s out now “On Demand”) are the leads. Highmore has been making the transition from children’s parts (most notably in the 2005 remake of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”), and has been helped by television work on “Bates Motel” (as Norman Bates) and the current “The Good Doctor.” He manages to play Charlie’s earnestness as well as his self-doubts, the reasons for which are conveniently revealed late in the film.
Rush may be less known, but is smoothly working her way through teen roles in “Goosebumps” and “The Giver” to play the high school senior beginning to face some of the problems of the adult world. (As a footnote, it’s interesting that the British Highmore and Israeli Rush fit so smoothly into American roles.) When the film focuses on the two of them it is both funny and poignant as they have to deal with their undeniable attraction in spite of the fact that she’s in a long-term relationship. One has to be much older to put that into perspective, and the film falls short in providing Highmore and Rush the support they need.
Marg Helgenberger is sufficient as Hightower’s mom, but she and Chris Meloni are saddled with a story as to why their marriage failed and now has him improbably moving into their house – she’s since remarried – while he’s lining up a new job. The longer and more involved this subplot gets, the more annoying it is. Equally of little help is former child star Haley Joel Osment (“Sixth Sense”) who seems to be channeling Gary Busey as Charlie’s slovenly friend on his way to law school.
What keeps our attention is the young couple becoming friends in spite of themselves, and realizing that their friendship is generating the sort of feelings they’re entitled to, not something to be avoided. Although we’re fairly certain where the story has to end up, writer/director Jake Goldberger refuses to give us the big dramatic payoff a more conventional film might have offered up. The ending is happy and hopeful, but as with most young lives, there are no guarantees of what the future might bring.
The movie menu between now and the end of the year consists of blockbusters, family movies, and Oscar bait. “Almost Friends” isn’t any of those and so viewers in their teens and twenties (or who remember what that was like) may find this a pleasant change of pace.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.