It takes a real set of balls to make a movie about the apocalypse without actually showing the apocalypse. It’s ironic that Brea Grant is the person who has those balls. She wrote, directed, and stars in the alternately quirky and morose Best Friends Forever. The film tells the story of two young women who embark on a road trip and end up at the beginning of the end of the world.
Harriet (Grant) is a comic book artist who has recently been released from psychiatric supervision. She’s planning on a fresh start in graduate school in Austin, Texas. Harriet plans a road trip from Los Angeles to the Texas capitol with her best friend Reba (Vera Miao), including some out-of-the-way stops along the way. However, once on the road, the duo enters the isolated desert without the knowledge that a nuclear bomb detonated in L.A., essentially wiping the entire city off the map.
As Harriet and Reba learn the fate of the City of Angels (including that of Reba’s family, who live there), they have chance encounters with symbols of apocalyptic dangers. One comes in the form of a hipster band whose scarves and dark-rimmed glasses mask their true form of bandits on the road. Another comes in the form of a religious nutjob who picks up the girls hitchhiking and begins a blame-fueled sermon. Other dangers include abuse of authority, anarchy, and general mistrust of friends leading to feral behavior.
This entire journey becomes not simply about survival but about the bond these women share. While the world crumbles around them, the story is less about the millions that die and more about how these two hold themselves together.
There are several impressive elements to Best Friends Forever, not the least of which is the restrained presentation of a nuclear apocalypse. This is where the heart of the independent film lies. There’s no big budget for a blockbuster-sized destruction of a city. Almost void of visual effects, Best Friends Forever hints at the apocalypse but never tries to survive on the spectacle.
Instead, first-time director Grant wraps the film in the characters (specifically its two leads) and how the end affects them emotionally. One might be tempted to call the Harriet and Reba’s reactions somewhat muted, and that wouldn’t be inaccurate. However, considering the characters’ isolation from the action and the fact that real reactions to such intense (albeit distant) trauma sometimes lead to underwhelming results rather than a string of would-be Oscar clips, it highlights how disconnected they are.
Both Harriet and Reba are distant individuals. Harriet is such by her own design, hiding behind her artwork and the lies she tells herself. Reba is removed from her overbearing family, choosing a life of relative promiscuity and rebellion. She uses sex not for comfort but for distraction, and that comes back to haunt her throughout the film. Their being caught up outside the apocalypse lets their world end the way they lived it: somewhere in the background.
Grant handles this film well, able to direct herself with some smart decisions, namely to let Reba carry the overt emotional burden of the story. She also frames the results of the apocalypse in a familiar way. Rather than relying solely on corny news commentary (although those snippets do show up from time to time), Best Friends Forever tells its story through its characters eyes and actions, for better or for worse.
There are some wrinkles along the way, however. One of the greatest dangers of being so close to your story and characters is that you fall in love with them so much that you cannot allow the natural flow of the story to keep its course. Grant falls into this trap multiple times, playing a bit of softball with the threats to both Harriet and Reba.
The reality is that the film works when it gets dark, and it travels down those unlit paths several times. One of the best was a fantastic moment in the film when real panic sets in for the characters, proving they would resort to anything to save themselves and each other. Unfortunately, there are a couple missed opportunities and a few other moments that steer down an extremely dark and dangerous path only to be brushed away with relative ease.
Still, this leaves Best Friends Forever as a warm and somewhat uplifting film about the worst day the planet will ever see. It’s an honest, down-to-earth look at what might happen when everything around you crumbles, yet it manages to have its heart in the right place.
Finally, it’s worth pointing out that Best Friends Forever was shot (rather proudly, I might add, based on the production notes) on Super 16mm film. In a world where digital options are quickly becoming the standard (which is increasingly more cost-effective to the independent filmmaker), it’s nice to see people actually committing a story to celluloid again.
Brace yourself, folks. This may be one of the last literal independent film you’ll see, considering the apocalypse is already here for honest-to-god film.
The Upside: Brea Grant delivers a heartwarming tale of friendships during the beginning of the end of the world.
The Downside: The end of the world has some nasty teeth, but it doesn’t always bite as hard as it should.
On the Side: Best Friends Forever was partially crowd-funded, so a big thanks should go out to all who supported this effort.