BESTIES – The Review
I must confess. My guilty television viewing habits of the past have frequently included THE MENTALIST, a formulaic yet witty dramatic detective series with a subtle but prevalent comedic underbelly. The series features a rebellious but brilliant mind gone rogue to fulfill his own mission — rules be damned — like HOUSE M.D., but with murder investigations instead of medical mysteries. But, let me get back on track…
A while back, I had a chance to see a Fantastic Fest screening. Ultimately, my schedule demanded I sacrifice seeing this film in favor of another. For some time, I kicked myself. BESTIES is written by Rebecca Perry Cutter, who also happens to be a writer on THE MENTALIST. This also marks the feature film debut for Cutter as a director. This intrigued me, however I managed to learn a valuable lesson as well. It’s a lesson I’ve learned, and likewise forgotten time and again over the years. A decent writer does not a decent director make.
In all fairness, I should not compare Cutter’s debut outing as a feature filmmaker to a four-episode run as writer on a television series. In so many ways, they are apples and oranges. However, it is really the only benchmark I have to fall back on when I compare what she has done to what she is currently doing, which I do constantly as a film enthusiast. BESTIES is a smart film, with a similarly subtle comical edge, sarcastic, but darker in tone. It’s a coming of age story, not far removed from DONNIE DARKO, but much lighter and without all the craziness of the modern cult classic.
BESTIES stars Olivia Crocichia as Sandy, an awkward girl in her young teens who has few friends and not much going for her in the high school social arena. When an opportunity arises, Sandy unwittingly delves head first into a manipulative friendship with her former babysitter, whom she has idolized for years. Madison Riley plays Ashley, a highly attractive and popular high school senior and Sandy’s former babysitter. Sandy’s father, played by Corin Nemec, allows Sandy to enlist Ashley to watch over her while he leaves on a business trip, opening the door for Sandy to run blindly into a forest of social misbehavior and dangerous consequences.
Having endured high school, as almost all of us have, I have my own perspective on what that world was like. I can compare my own experiences with others, but truly I can never fully know what that was like as a young woman. It’s simply just a fact of life. BESTIES attempts to illustrate for its audience what being a socially awkward, relatively innocent teenage girl is like in the modern suburban world. In many ways, male viewers who had similar experiences can relate in context, but we cannot assume we understand entirely. I do not feel I am going too far when I say the female gender can be a truly brutal beast, and far too often, its other women than feel that wrath more than we men do on any given day. Men may beat each other to a pulp, but in this sense, words from a woman’s mouth with the wrong intentions can wreak such greater pain than another man’s fist to the face. Go ahead, tell me I’m wrong.
BESTIES begins innocently enough. Ashley arrives to babysit and no sooner as Sandy’s father leaves, she’s asking Sandy if it’s alright for her boyfriend to come over, then a few friends, which turns into an all out party complete with underage drinking. Smitten by her adoration for Ashley, her common sense and good judgement is blinded and she loses all power to do what’s right. Ashley plays friendly and, when the cops break up the fun, assures Sandy everything will be fine, until her abusive ex-boyfriend shows up and proceeds to cause tension that leads to a tragic turn of events, which then in turn leads to a dark secret that Sandy burdens herself with keeping silent at Ashley’s request. So begins Sandy’s newly formed friendship with Ashley.
Cutter incorporates all the expected social brutality one comes to expect from high school life. Ashley’s friendship with Sandy is fickle, at best, and Sandy’s standing within this strange new world of popularity is a fragile footing as she’s drawn further into Ashley’s circle. Meanwhile, Sandy develops an interest in a local boy on her street which will only complicate her relationship with Ashley. BESTIES relies heavily on the sacrament of keeping secrets, but also proves that secrets can only be kept so long before they fester and infect their host.
BESTIES is a well-written script, a commendable concept shining a fresh light on the teenage coming of age genre. Crocicchia delivers a convincing performance as Sandy. Her commitment to the role conveys the uneasiness and innocent willingness to follow her tainted role model to extreme lengths. Crocicchia wins our empathy and our support for Sandy as the underdog just trying to fit in, even if it means being drawn down into Hell just so that she can ultimately pull herself back out on her own merit and be able to walk away with her head held high as her idol crumbles before her own artificial world.
The down side of BESTIES is that the execution of the well-written script, both in production and in acting, are lacking punch and experience. The film often feels forced, particularly anytime anyone but Sandy is the focal point. Riley occasionally lifts Ashley into a more fully realized and three-dimensional character, but often her performance feels flat, comfortable with being the stereotypical visage of the popular high school bitch. Fitting, of course, given the character and her purpose, but it would have been nice to see Ashley develop into a more equal nemesis to Sandy than she does. One particularly shining moment for both actresses, is when Sandy shows up uninvited to Ashley’s house, having gotten herself drunk on some low-grade booze. She strikes up an alcohol-induced, unfiltered conversation with Ashley that leads to an intimate misunderstanding that begins Sandy’s awakening to Ashley’s true nature. This scene is both a testament to the potential of the film as well as the turning point in the story.
BESTIES, at times, can seem shallow and under-developed, but the film never comes off as pretentious. This helps to carry the film’s underlying strength through to the end. Although mired in unfortunate heartbreak for Sandy, the film concludes on a bittersweet high note, combining personal sacrifice and karmic revenge.
BESTIES (2012) will be available in late-January to view from such outlets as Amazon Instant Video, Verizon/Frontier, Telus, Shaw, MTS, Rogers, Blockbuster On Demand and M-Go.
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Hopeless film enthusiast; reborn comic book geek; artist; collector; cookie connoisseur; curious to no end