The Daily Stream: Just Friends Perfectly Captures The Weirdness Of Going Home For The Holidays

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Just Friends"

Where You Can Stream It: Netflix

The Pitch: A decade earlier, Chris Brander (Ryan Reynolds) was a fat, retainer-wearing high school senior relentlessly bullied by his New Jersey peers, and struggling to tell his best friend Jamie (Amy Smart) that he's always loved her. After Chris' attempt to tell Jamie the truth about his feelings blows up in an excruciating humiliation at her graduation party, Chris leaves Jersey and completely changes himself out of spite. Now, Chris is an unrecognizably hot, highly successful, sardonic, and womanizing music executive from Los Angeles.

Just before Christmas, Chris finds himself unwittingly returning to his hometown after his ex-girlfriend, the delusional and unhinged pop megastar Samantha James (Anna Faris), forces a private jet to land in New Jersey after starting a fire by putting tin foil in the plane's microwave. New Chris is now back in Jersey, sleeping in his childhood room, and realizing that now might be his last chance at telling Jamie how he's always felt, hoping to finally make her his girlfriend after an adolescence of living in "the friend zone."

Why It's Essential Viewing

Modern Christmas movies get a lot of flack, especially Christmas rom-coms which at this point are probably written by bots forced to consume Hallmark Channel originals for 30 days, which means "Just Friends" is frequently pushed aside as being "just another Christmas rom-com," when the conversation that should be had is how "Just Friends" is the best Christmas rom-com. It takes the formula of "hotshot city guy visits hometown and finds out home is where the heart is" but actually explores how that realization comes to be. Chris isn't like the protagonists of Hallmark Christmas love stories where a successful woman in a liberal field gives it all up to open a hardware store with her once-upon-a-time prom date who exclusively wears plaid; he's a former bullied teen who lost his identity in the process of trying to outshine everyone who made fun of him. Chris' visit home is just as much about him learning to love himself as it is admitting his love for Jamie.

In Los Angeles, Chris can get any girl he wants by simply name-dropping all the famous people he's worked with, but none of that macho peacocking works on Jamie, who deep down, has always loved Chris too ... but the real Chris. Not the Chris who sits next to P. Diddy at the Grammys; the Chris who loves snow globes, his mother's cooking, making funny voices with his best friend, goofin' on his brother, and lip syncing to All-4-One when he thinks no one is watching.

'Forgiveness is More Than Saying Sorry'

I've seen plenty of people lament "Just Friends" for putting "the friend zone" into the lexicon of pop culture, but I'm always increasingly annoyed when yet again, people refused to hear what the movie was actually saying and instead just took from it what they wanted. Sure, "Just Friends" deals with the idea of the friend zone, but it also completely dismantles the concept and includes Jamie publicly calling out how disrespectful it is to believe being kind to someone entitles you to sex or a relationship and tells Chris to "grow up." THE FRIEND ZONE ISN'T REAL, Y'ALL. This maturity enhances the romance plot, and offers a depth that other Christmas rom-coms can't compete with.

Chris fails constantly trying to impress Jamie, and it's because he's still trying to follow the so-called "rules" of dating that teach men women are prizes to be won and there's a game to be played in favor of just, you know, getting to know someone and being yourself. Chris only gets the girl in the end because he gets sent packing and for the first time in his life, actually does the work of self-actualization and recognizes that he's gotta stop lying to himself about who he really is. Existing to obtain the instant gratification of being able to one-up the jock who bullied him in high school as an adult is no way to live, and if Chris wants to be with Jamie, he needs to own up to his mistakes, apologize for being a huge douche, and finally be honest with her.

'You'll Always Be Fat To Me, Chris'

Going back to your hometown is a staple in Christmas movies, but few ever acknowledge the awkward universe you step into by going "home." It's a hodgepodge of conflicting emotions and no matter how long it's been since you've visited, there's always a lingering sense of infantilization that occurs. It's like everyone you ever knew can only see you as who you were the last time they saw you — like the living embodiment of Ralphie's aunt in "A Christmas Story" still believing him to be a toddler and gifting him accordingly. For Chris, his bedroom still being adorned with high school polaroids, the waitress at the diner still remembering his old order, and Jamie's dad still going way, way too hard with the Christmas decorations. These weird quirks, regardless of the emotions they elicit, are what make it feel like home.

The moments Reynolds shares with his younger brother Mike (Chris Marquette) are some of the best, as the two still fight and bicker the way all siblings do, and constantly dig at each other's insecurities in a way that's only acceptable if it comes from your little brother. "You'll always be fat to me, Chris," Mike says.

Okay, Yes. Let's Talk About The Fat Suit

This film is also notorious for its opening scene (and end credits extension) that feature Ryan Reynolds as the fat, teenage version of Chris Brander singing "I Swear" by All-4-One in what is largely considered to be one of the most ridiculous fat suits ever put on screen. As a fat person, I have a big problem with actors using fat suits for a multitude of reasons that could constitute their own article, but the only fat suit I've never had an issue with has always been Ryan Reynolds' in this movie, because it's so laughably terrible.

I recognize that the probable intention was trying to get people to laugh over the ridiculous possibility that someone known for being sexy and shredded would ever be fat, but nothing about the fat suit he wears is within the realm of possibility and looks like a child's drawing of what they think a fat body looks like. The unfortunate reality is that the marketing for the film played into the fat suit SO HARD but in the world of the film, the punchline is not that Chris is fat, the punchline is that high schoolers are a-holes. Chris is just a fat kid living his life and owning the crap out of his lip-sync. The people who make fun of him for what he looks like are not heroes, they're all jerks, and they're just jealous they don't have a fraction of his charisma even while fat.

It's Anna Faris at Her Best

"Just Friends" nails the romance plot, but it's also one of the few rom-coms that's legitimately really f***ing funny. Anna Faris as the manic pop star Samantha James is, with no exaggeration, one of the best comedic performances of the 20th century. Hell, The Academy (as in the people who choose THE FRIGGIN' OSCARS!!!!) dedicated an appreciation post to her work as Samantha James just this week because apparently this is one of the few times The Academy and I agree on something.

Farris' commitment to her roles is already well known, but there's absolutely no one else who could have pulled off Samantha James. The control she has over her vocal inflections, the animation of her facial expressions, and her willingness to eat and subsequently drool out an entire tube of toothpaste onto herself is absolute gold. The film is filled with an exceptional supporting cast, but Anna Faris is on a completely different level. For all of the heartfelt messaging hidden in Chris' journey in "Just Friends," the movie belongs to Samantha James.

This holiday season, give yourself the gift of "Just Friends." Shakes come and go, but friends are "furrr-ever."