Rating:Why do we care about characters in a story? After all, they are not us, the people who self-evidently require the most care in the universe. Is it because we can see something of ourselves in them? Or is it because they have a great purpose or talent or are otherwise interesting people? In truth, there are a lot of valid reasons to care about characters, but it’s never a good sign when all we’re given is simply that they are the protagonists. Worst Friends, the new film from director/co-writer Ralph Arend, falls into the regrettable trap of assuming that because its two central characters take up the most screen time, we’ll want to have anything to do with them.
In this case, the deck is stacked against them. True to the title, Jake (Richard Tanne) and Sam (Noah Barrow) are lifelong friends in a nondescript New Jersey suburb, friends who show every sign of an equally lifelong animosity. The film opens with its most effective storytelling, showing the juvenile Sam and Jake walking to school, only for the latter to spy some high school girls and force Sam to walk 10 paces behind him, just in case he can make some time with them. It neatly sums up their dynamic in a tight, short scene; Sam is already a put-upon nebbish at 10 years old, while Jake is already a self-involved jerk. Unfortunately, everything goes swiftly downhill from there.
Flash-forward to current day, where Jake is hit by a truck and hospitalized on his way to his deadbeat father’s (Larry Fassenden, showing the most life of anyone involved) wedding to a Jersey stereotype (Sarah Wynter). Jake is confined to a wheelchair for a month. His father has already paid for a honeymoon in St. Bart’s, so he needs someone to watch over his son—someone who will not cost as much as a professional live-in caretaker. Cue Sam, who ekes out a living working as the worst SAT tutor along with his nurse mother (Kathryn Erbe). Jake’s father secretly pays Sam $1,000 to watch over his son, leaving Jake to assume that Sam’s doing it simply because…they’re friends?
Here’s the thing: no one in this movie is a friend to anyone else and no one communicates in any human manner. Every character has essentially the same vocal cadences and vocabulary, and they basically all sound like variations on the same theme (with the notable exception of Fassenden). Everyone seemingly hates Jake for being a jerk in high school, yet they’re all perfectly willing to interact with him. Even the few women that are involved seem to exist to mostly support the “internet nice guy” notion that females only like jerks and ignore people like Sam. But Sam is equally as irritating, profane and deliberately spiteful as Jake. The only real difference is that he wears glasses and is repeatedly referenced as having achieved a perfect score on the SAT before flunking out of college.
The only real change that occurs in Worst Friends is that Jake and Sam realize they are not really friends and are not required to be in any way. Despite that they are implied to not have seen each other in a decade and then go on to spend every moment together treating the other like garbage, this appears to be a life-changing revelation. But for the viewer—so what? These men sound alike, dress alike and act alike; their only catharsis is to become aware that they aren’t actually required to be around people that they actively hate. Even for a 75 minute feature, that’s too little payoff for all the time spent on them.