We’ve reached the point on the timeline of cinema where just about every Apocalypse tale has been told and retold a hundred times over. So now filmmakers are faced with the task of thinking of every possible angle in order to milk the last drops of life out of world’s end stories. Luckily, Brea Grant’s Best Friends Forever is able to give us an interesting take on the tale, as it asks what would happen if the world was ending and no one remembered to tell you.
Harriet and Reba, played by Grant and co-writer Vera Miao respectively, are road-tripping from Los Angeles to Austin and miss out on the ever-important news that someone has detonated four nuclear bombs in four major American cities. Everyone they come across has already heard the news, but the girls are somehow blissfully oblivious. This leads to a series of encounters ranging from confusing to horrifying in which they are carjacked by hipsters and have a run in with a crazed Bible-basher who believes the Chinese Reba is actually a Korean spy. Wacky right?
Most of the film is spent wavering between a story of two girls kicking ass in a no rules, post-apocalyptic Texas, and a story of an already strained friendship buckling under the weight of events beyond their control. Unfortunately, it’s that wavering which severely weakens the film. The film defies genre classification, but not in a way that makes it a memorably original piece. Rather, it just falls awkwardly in the cracks between multiple genres and is lost deep within that abyss.
If there was a greater focus on any of the stories the film seeks to tell, say the girls’ quest for survival, it may have lost a bit of originality, but it would’ve gained something much more important – a conflict that actually matters to the audience. But the lack of focus on either the Apocalyptic dread or the heart of the relationship means that neither is properly captured.
Buddy stories are usually told about men, so the concept of a buddy story with women instead is great. In concept. However, it’s hard to focus on their friendship when distracted by wondering how the two ever became friends in the first place. A recent change in Harriet is alluded to, but there’s never any indication of what she was like beforehand.
That being said, the Harriet we see now is wonderful. Brea Grant gives a loveable and heartbreaking performance. The character is set up as an indie darling by her cute outfits, short platinum hair, and job (she’s a comic book artist people… Let how awesome that is sink in for a minute.) By the end of the film it’s almost impossible not to love the vulnerability that Grant so deftly lets the audience glimpse. There’s an incredible depth to the character built through the subtleties of both her well-written lines and Grant’s performance.
Sadly, Harriet is the only character with any form of depth at all. The rest of the characters are as one-dimensional as possible. They feel like ideas of people rather than living, breathing people who react in believable ways to the horrors they are helplessly faced with. Instead, everyone gets drunk and turns what is potentially the end of the world into a party. Many characters exclusively serve to push the plot along to its next point. The only supporting characters that recur are the villainous hipsters, and even their reappearance is through a stroke of infeasible chance.
One odd decision made here is that the filmmakers opted for an occasional on-screen countdown to the moment when the “disaster” occurs. The realization that the “disaster” isn’t some moment when Earth stops spinning but rather is nothing more than the cracking point in the friendship is aggravatingly anti-climatic. The fact that petty differences and a strain on their friendship is put on the same level as a nuclear attack wiping out millions of people is so off-putting that it’s hard to even care whether the two friends end up back together.
The other reason it’s hard to care is because the rift in their relationship is never portrayed as great enough for there to be any doubt that the two will stay best friends. The entire film builds to almost nothing, when there’s any number of possibilities for the story. Nothing can wreck an alright film more than a horrible ending, and that’s exactly what Best Friends Forever suffers from.
Despite all the weaknesses in the plot, there are some terrific elements to the film. Perhaps most memorable is the exceptional soundtrack. The array of catchy Austin indies carries the film, making even the incessant scenes of driving bearable. If nothing else, the film is worth watching simply to hear the great music that scores it.
A close second to the soundtrack is Michelle Lawler’s breathtaking cinematography. Shot entirely on Super 16, the gritty look of the film is perfect for the barren landscapes that the majority of the story takes place in. Spare some night scenes when the grittiness makes parts of the frame nearly impossible to decipher, it looks wonderful. The scenery of the drive is stunning and well-captured, which is a necessity in any road-trip film. Even the party scenes, while overlong and cliche as can be expected for something called a “party scene,” are beautifully shot.
The dialogue is sharp, never forced, and well paced. Grant’s direction takes the film absolutely as far as it can go with the story she’s working with, but she would’ve been wise to use that quality direction to refocus her writing onto the responses of people to the nuclear attacks, rather than bickering in an already strained friendship.
Great in concept, the wavering focus of Best Friends Forever weakens the film to the point of coming painfully close to fulfilling it’s potential, but still falling far short. The flaws in the story completely overshadow the beautiful cinematography and a memorable performance by Grant, but it’s those elements that make the film still worth watching.