This is exemplified in the story arc of Jack (Jake Abel), a character who, in my opinion, should’ve been ALMOST FRIENDS’ protagonist. When he is first introduced, Jack’s motivations aren’t so much unclear as they are non-existent; Goldberger quickly emphasises his general passivity to recall the stereotypical apathy of aimless young people, newly liberated from the rigid structure of high school. Indeed, early in the film Jack is reluctant to accept a job offer despite not even being required to interview for the position, which is perhaps the most archetypal ‘slacker’ beat a character could take.
I’d initially assumed that this offer was simply a sycophantic ploy from Charlie (Freddie Highmore), the film’s true lead, in an attempt to please his love interest, Jack’s cousin Amber (Odeya Rush). However, Goldberger’s script pleasantly surprised me by continuing to dedicate time to Jack’s development; for instance, a running gag involving an arcade claw machine culminates effectively as a metaphor for expectations failing to match reality. Subsequently, the character begins to make mature decisions that utilise groundwork subtly laid earlier in the film, from the unexpected blossoming of a new relationship, to a surprise promotion at his new workplace. The next few years of Jack’s life may still be transformative and confusing, but by the film’s conclusion he’s demonstrably sorted things out for now.
Nevertheless, ALMOST FRIENDS struggles to decide what to do with Charlie, which leads to many of his scenes dragging on. From early in the film I felt as though I wasn’t being given enough context to understand the character, particularly his supposed love of cooking. The script develops and never fully breaks the habit of telling rather than showing Charlie’s passion, and although being a professional chef is his ostensible primary ambition, the conclusion of this plot feels contrived. A scene late in the film provided the emotional heft and backstory I’d wanted from the character, and Highmore skilfully sells the revelation, but the story threads are all too far gone for the moment to have the intended impact. By contrast, greater emphasis is given to the love triangle forming between Charlie, Amber, and her boyfriend Brad (Taylor John Smith), although the exact nature of the two leads’ dynamic isn’t quite as fully realised as I would’ve liked. Given the film’s title, and consideration for the decisions faced by people their age, it’s plausible that Goldberger deliberately resisted classifying the pair’s relationship as platonic or romantic as a commentary on indecisive modern dating trends. Yet simultaneously, the synopsis and trailer arguably imply that ALMOST FRIENDS is intended to be viewed as a romantic comedy, causing the film to suffer from a mild identity crisis. Focusing on the love triangle also greatly reduces the amount of development afforded to Amber, which is unfortunate since she faces the single most important decision of the film.
Although ALMOST FRIENDS delivers poignant reminders of the role of choice in our own maturity, their impact is diminished by the film’s own narrative indecisiveness. In my opinion, a greater focus on its grounded, relatable themes would have led to a more rewarding experience.