It’s all well and good for a film to flat out tell you it has a heart, but that still doesn’t mean it actually has one. There are the occasional movies that just seem imbued with a natural, raw humanity and love, elevating them far beyond what most would expect of them. The Lego Movie did it earlier this year, taking a project that seemed all but doomed to become two hours of product placement and turning it into an insanely fun ride that endorsed creativity above all else. David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook did it a couple of years ago as well, taking a mish-mash of indie drama and romcom tropes and imbuing it with a true and beautiful belief in its characters and the love that drew them together. Mutual Friends is, it’s fair to say, not Silver Linings Playbook, no matter how much it tries to be. In fact, I’m not sure it’s much of anything.
The story is one of those multi-stranded, intertwining deals with three and a half parallel plotlines all coming together at the end. The characters are all white, attractive and rich – as is often the case with these kind of mid-budget semi-mumblecore movies – with the plot revolving around a close-knit group of friends, all with relationships in varying states of disrepair. There’s genre classics like Girl Whose Fiancee Isn’t Right for Her, Ditsy Wife with Douchey High Rise Lawyer Husband and so on.
It’s not remarkable stuff, although there is some interest to be payed to the eventually all but irrelevant yarn of Sammy (Ross Partridge) and Adele (Annika Peterson) as they wander their way through a sexless, loveless limbo. There’s a point where this particular plot strand seems to promise a very dark turn indeed, but it’s one that’s essentially forgotten, wiping the film of its most interesting storyline in favor of more people moaning in swanky apartments.
That’s often the issue with these multi-layered plots – if you don’t balance your structure and your writing properly, people will swiftly grow more amenable to certain characters and begrudge others their screen time. And there’s a fair few characters to begrudge, most significantly Nate (Peter Scanavino). Nate is a guy we’re meant to root for, but I was left watching in slightly uncomfortable annoyance as this overgrown, self-absorbed manchild proceeded to pretty much harass Liv (Caitlin Fitzgerald), a one time fling he is determined to win back at the most inappropriate time possible.
Of course, the film goes on to weigh things in Nate’s favor – Liv’s fiancee turns out to be just another suit in a film where all the people with 9 to 5 jobs are looked down on as materialistic and boring narcissists. It’s a common move made in these kind of movies: either the object of vitriol is written to be deliberately horrible, or they barely make an appearance, allowing the rest of the cast to second handedly paint them as a monster. It works with films that earn that right, but Mutual Friends never gives us enough of a sense for the characters we’re supposed to like to then create a convincing douchebag. Every character feels like a handful of stereotypes crushed together rather than an actual person, an issue largely caused by shoving a bunch of separate plotlines into an 80 minute runtime, meaning nobody ever gets the time or space to become anything more than the sum of their parts.
That said, I laughed a few times and there were just enough likable characters to keep the whole thing ticking over. I didn’t feel invested, or care for anyone in particular, but there’s some fun set pieces, particularly in a final half hour that centers on a party gone catastrophically and cringe-inducingly wrong. This handful of likable characters are largely secondary though, leaving the bulk of Mutual Friends’ runtime to people moaning about an array of First World problems – I just wanted to watch more of Liv’s miraculously short brother running around Brooklyn being an oddball.
I didn’t really dislike Mutual Friends all that much. I spent an hour and a bit watching it without getting particularly upset or annoyed, but I can’t really dub it a romcom zenith either. The film started, I sat there for a time, and then it was over. There were moments that annoyed me – namely the loathsome Nate and a pretty patronizing world view where you’re either a pompous dullard of a grown up or an irresponsible, overgrown child – but I chuckled a few times and was occasionally interested. It doesn’t help its case with its insular group of characters completely lacking in diversity or any apparent knowledge of the outside world, but it’s nothing to get upset about. These kind of movies are a dime a dozen at this point, and – when it eventually and inevitably passes into the endless ranks of forgotten indie romcoms – Mutual Friends won’t be missed.