Friend Zone adopts an idea that has been too familiar that we almost take it for granted. A story of a guy who falls hard to a girl (vice versa) but ends up as friends, instead of lovers, is a tragedy since forever. Before the term was popularized by Joey Tribbiani in sitcom Friends, Edgar Linton has been friend-zoned by Catherine Earnshaw in Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and, since then, we’ve heard a lot of similar stories or even get ourselves tangled in such stories. That does not refrain this new GDH romance from reminding us on how beautiful and sentimental this state can be.
In Friend Zone, we meet Palm (Naphat Siangsomboon) and Gink (Pimchanok ‘Baifern’ Luevisadpaibul) at the center of the story. Since high school, Palm has got himself tangled in a complicated friend zone with Gink. Please note that the ‘got himself tangled’ part is intentional. For 10 years, he keeps refraining himself from expressing his love to his own best friend for fear of losing her forever. For the decade, Palm has always been a companion piece for Gink. He would be going from country to another only to accompany Gink only to stalk her boyfriend, Ted (Jason Young). He had tried dating some other girls, but, while that granted him the ‘soft boy’ title, he fails to make him get over his infatuation to Gink.
Friend Zone takes a subtle road to depict the titular situation. While involving jet-set adventure through neighboring countries, the movie has never been about the grand gesture, but the small and familiar ones. The globe-trotting (well, actually only to some Southeast Asian countries plus Hong Kong) journey evolves from some marketing gimmick to become a forced yet integral part of the story as Gink works as a manager of her boyfriend, Ted, who works as a musician tasked to record a product jingle for a multilateral company; and Palm works as a steward.
Never had the movie gone with Hollywood kind of romance spectacles with the hustle and bustle or flowery quotes. The scale of the friend zone is also moderate; not an exaggerating one. Most of the time, it was the simple gesture as in refilling Gink’s beer on weddings—which apparently is a cultural gesture as Palm meets some other friend zone buddies; helping Gink dumping out her ex’s memorabilia; or simply being completely open to each other in any situation. While the movie barely escapes from numerous clichés, it never suffers from it; instead, it’s making them as a moving motor that invites audiences to feel relatable with the story.
While, at the surface, Friend Zone brings up stock characters—a nice guy and the supposedly mean girl; there’s actually an underlying reason (or maybe a trigger) that puts them in such a situation. Nine and Baifern’s chemistry is the key to make this familiar story warm. It’s easy to root for them even in the first fifteen minutes of the movie. Additionally, Ted, Gink’s boyfriend, is not necessarily a typical charming guy. He’s a charismatic problem-solver who might be flawed but has the heart to admit it. Ted really is as likable as Palm, adding layers to the narrative.
Final verdict, Friend Zone, while building the narrative on an overly familiar material plus some jet-set life clichés, can still deliver its hook right in the gut. Nine and Baifern’s effervescent chemistry makes it more relatable, even without grand gesture.
Friend Zone (2019)
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