A few years back, I attended an anniversary screening for Fred Dekker’s The Monster Squad, with the cast and filmmaker in attendance for a post-film Q&A. A young girl in attendance asked Dekker whether he felt any reservations upon re-viewing it twenty years later, in having one of his young characters call another a faggot. It was an honest question that deserved an honest question in response.
Dekker: “Ma’am, may I ask what your name is?”
Attendee: “It’s ______”
Dekker: “Okay,_______, if you don’t mind me asking, have you ever been a twelve year old boy?”
I feel like any negative comments I might have towards Rebecca Perry Cutter’s Besties would result in someone saying the same thing to me, just reversing the gender. I am not much of a fan of Besties, but I also was never a timid 14-year-old girl struggling to break out of her shell. I also did not live next door to the most popular and superficial (and self-assuredly smoking hot) girl in school, who I desperately wanted to be my friend despite knowing we were two wildly different classes of individual. I also haven’t killed anyone accidentally at a party in self-defense, and therefore I should not judge how two young teenage girls are depicted handling that particular situation.
These two girls, Sandy the wallflower (Olivia Crocicchia) and Ashley the supermodel (played confidently by a very legal Madison Riley), get themselves into a situation after an ill-advised house party when one of Ashley’s former flings (Christopher Backus) – just released from prison after two years – comes looking for the girl he thought about every day, sometimes twice a day. He’s rejected by Ashley and then forces himself upon young Sandy, who’s unable to resist the attention. The encounter is interrupted by Ashley trying to protect the unsuspecting Sandy. One thing leads to another, and a frying pan fatally meets the statutory rapist’s head.
Ashley and Sandy devise a plan to dispose of the body and in the process of their cover-up become quite close – or as close as alpha dog Ashley will permit for herself and a freshman nobody like Sandy to become. In the aftermath of her worst nightmare, Sandy gets to taste her greatest dream come true by getting accepted in with the popular crowd. The test becomes just how much Sandy is willing to take before she can no longer keep their friendly secret, which she never wanted to keep but abided the request of her idol so as not to ruin her fashion design future.
Crocicchia hits just the right notes as Sandy, a young girl trying to find her identity knowing that she is not the most beautiful girl, nor the most confident. She doesn’t believe she deserves anything she wants, and she’s uncomfortable in her skin. She’s a powerless girl, and Crocicchia plays it with believable timidness. This is more impressive in contrast with her role in last year’s Terri, where she took on a role more similar to the Ashley part here, and yet she’s equally believable. Her ability to carry the picture in spite of her lack of an overt personality is something to take note of, and the ending really pays off entirely thanks to her. This is a young actress yet to land that mainstream role that will make her a household name.
Where Besties loses me is in its inability to feel authentic during awkward exchanges between kids who haven’t yet learned how to comfortably interact. It’s difficult to find the right nuance in the language and performance with every “So…what’s up?” and “…whatever..that’s ghetto, right?” And so the kids don’t sound like real teenagers talking so much as teenaged actors acting like teenagers who don’t know how to talk. It’s just one of those things that’s difficult to convey. Even when it feels real, it’s still annoying, and that’s not necessarily the film’s fault. Teenagers just aren’t fun to listen to if it isn’t coming from the perspective of wanting to laugh at them.
This is probably why so many of the greater teen films in American cinema are timeless, because they’re written by adults who can appeal to kids by making them sound better than they are. In reality there is just long pauses, uncomfortable blather and words you’ll regret ever using ten years later. It’s fine, just not entirely entertaining to listen to for ninety minutes.
The Upside: Very strong lead performance from Olivia Crocicchia, excellent setup and an idea that’s unique to the coming-of-age picture.
The Downside: It’s just not very engaging, and I found that I was laughing more at the expense of the characters than with them.
On the Side: Backus and actress Jackie Debatin appeared together in an episode of The Mentalist prior to acting in this film. Rebecca Perry Cutter’s wrote an episode of The Mentalist and was an assistant to the executive producer for six other episodes of the show, yet none of those seven episodes are the one Backus and Debatin appeared in.