Opposites attract, differences create uncertainty, and then love prevails. Just Friends offers up a simple dramatic trajectory, but an effective one, that unfolds beautifully from first frame to last.
If this fabulous new Dutch gay twenty-something made-for-TV love story reminds you of the fabulous Dutch gay teen made-for-TV love story, Boys (2014)—it might be because Just Friends script writer Henk Burger was also a dramaturg on Boys. That highly acclaimed 2014 release won numerous prizes at international children’s film festivals and was nominated for an International Emmy in the Best Kids TV Movie category. Just Friends looks poised for similar acclaim. If only we could get American TV movies to be so enthusiastically gay-positive.
This wonderfully tear-jerking gay romance is packed full of fabulous scenes of parental love and acceptance that will warm your heart—plus, a pair of massively hot lead actors and also, yes, SPOILER ALERT: a happy ending!
Josha Stradowski (previously seen in the 2013 gay short, Caged) stars as the angelically buff Joris whose simple life revolves around riding his motorcycle, playing with his drone and working out at the gym.
The dreamy Dutch-Syrian actor Majd Mardo co-stars as the free-spirited but struggling Yad, who has just dropped out of med school and returns home to live with his family and teach wind-surfing.
Set in the lakeside town of Almere just outside of Amsterdam, Just Friends offers up a compelling love story where it appears that the families of both young men are by and large pretty chill about their respective gayness. Instead of homophobia being the central drama, the tension arises because Yad is Syrian and both families are anxious about their cultural differences.
Joris still lives with his tacky, plastic-surgery-obsessed, heavy-drinking mom and regularly visits his spunky Grandma Ans (an irresistible performance by Jenny Arean) while grappling with ongoing grief over his long-dead father. And now he has to cope with his mother’s ignorant racist objections to his developing relationship with Yad (who also happens to be Grandma’s household helper).
While Yad’s family is also okay with him being gay, his mother has the other usual maternal worries about him (she wishes he would go back to school, care about his future, stop smoking so much weed). And it seems that everyone, Yad most of all, is concerned that maybe Joris isn’t his Mister Right.
The plot tension of Just Friends is a bit slight at times—the film especially seems to want to tell us something profound about gay men and their mothers but doesn’t completely succeed. Happily though, the wisdom and peppy matchmaking of Grandma Ans ultimately prevails. “Let me tell you this, my boy,” she sagely assures Joris. “Love can’t be controlled. It controls you.”
Blessed by excellent helming from director Ellen Smit and gorgeous cinematography Tjitte Jan Nieuwkoop, Just Friends is also buoyed by a soaring pop-infused soundtrack and saturated with warmhearted gay-positive energy.
As Yad says adoringly of Joris, it’s: “cute, hot, and sweet.”
Just Friends is out on digital platforms on March 26 (iTunes, Prime Video, Google Play, VUDU, FandangoNOW, Wolfe On Demand) and comes to DVD in April from Wolfe Video.