Guy Friends Puts Studio Rom-Coms to Shame

(L-R) Kavita Jariwala and Katie Muldowney in Guy Friends. Image courtesy of Vile Henchman Productions

On the matters of love in the arenas of advice and counseling, Dr. Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages are all the rage. For goodness sake, they have their own app and identifying quiz. Each of the five paths are powerful motivations for emotional connection. Amid all the fireworks and celebrations brought out, what’s rarely seen is when someone gets one wrong or triggers one unintentionally. That adorable pickle of a predicament is the catalyst for Jonathan Smith’s fourth feature, the independent romantic comedy Guy Friends.

New Yorker Jaime Sharma (first-time actress Kavita Jariwala) shares a spacious and swanky apartment with her steady boyfriend Patrick (TV writer Michael Dahlgren). She also seems to have a sizable collection of male friends and acquaintances due to her friendly and helpful disposition, much to Patrick’s chagrin. There’s her next door neighbor Bradley (James Redfern) who intersects her in the hallway on the way to morning jogs. Her apartment doorman Ralph (Brett Eidman of Taken in the Night), regular local barista Simon (Mike Drosos), and usual rideshare driver Ralph (Wilson Conkwright, recently seen in Ethan Hawke’s Wildcat) delight at seeing her daily. Mirroring the career she dreams of, Jaime works as an assistant with the front desk worker Max (film editor Jorge Lucas) for the retired and widowed architect Mr. Vanderbilt (Patrick Collins of Man on a Ledge). Guy friends are everywhere.

A woman smiles at a friend in Guy Friends.
Kavita Jariwala in Guy Friends. Image courtesy of Vile Henchman Productions.

Jaime’s a natural with encouraging words and compliments, always lifting people up with a positive mindset. All of those aforementioned men light up when she’s around. Jaime calls herself a “guy’s girl” as an only child who didn’t have sisters as a kid, but she, unlike the stressed Patrick, is oblivious to the power and benefit her words of affirmation have on others, matching one of Chapman’s Love Languages.

When Patrick reveals himself to be mentally exhausted from the constant fear of cheating and the burden of being Jaime’s best friend with no tribe of female confidantes in the picture, he breaks up with her. As a soon as Jaime announces the break on an Instagram post, an invisible flare of opportunity orbits her and Guy Friends. Serendipitously and hilariously, the karma of all those words of affirmation returns like a tidal wave.

A surprised woman receives a hug.

No less than a few overnight hours on a wine hangover morning after Jaime’s social media declaration, all of those aforementioned men unbeknownst of each other–including an old college friend (Smith himself) over the phone in Seattle–take the naive courage found in reckless abandon to immediately profess their long-held, undying affection for her. With every “I love you, Jaime Sharma” and every outlandish gift and gesture, each man pines with Lloyd Christmas-level desperation for their chance of reciprocation from their beautiful yet floored dreamgirl. 

Jaime is flabbergasted as to how to respond without breaking hearts. The best replies she can muster are “I don’t feel the same way” and “I never thought of you that way.” The one guy friend who doesn’t make a play on this fateful day is Ted (Justin Clark of Steam Room Stories and the sound mixer of this film), who is head over heels for his visiting longtime girlfriend Sandy (newcomer Katie Muldowney). Ted is as domesticated, so to speak, as they come, allowing Sandy all the respect, space, and understanding that comes with her having a steady group of girlfriends. He keenly saw this dilemma coming for Jaime and calls out his friend’s extremely poor “crush radar.” To help, Ted recommends Jaime hang out with Sandy to get a different perspective. The incredibly frank and savvy Sandy helps Jaime sort out all the emotional cues, pitfalls, and denial she’s been missing. Jaime never led these men on, and Sandy knows that point blank sight unseen. She helps Jaime better relate to women and see the narrow-minded selfishness and borderline creepiness that has resulted from the men taking her vocalized friendliness the wrong way. The unforgiving Sandy even predicts their sad strategic next moves after being rebuffed. Broadening this new friendship, Guy Friends kickstarts the reminiscent conversations of just how people become friends.

Once this conundrum arrives for Jaime, Guy Friends circles its wagons and makes the fresh duo of Jaime and Sandy the core of the film. The main plot and their gestating sample examination of friendship establishment are shot in black-and-white by writer-director Jonathan Smith and mirror little full-color vignette testimonies of real people describing how they became best friends. In less witty hands, these arcs of burgeoning female connection and the well-worn looking-for-love plight would conveniently be vanquished in a grandiose and, in all likelihood preposterous, rom-com climax involving some kind of public shenanigans.

Two women walk down a New York City street.
(L-R) Kate Muldowney and Kavita Jariwala in Guy Friends. Image courtesy of Vile Henchman Productions.

Instead, intimate and personal realities are at the stirring forefront of Guy Friends. Not all friendships are immediate successes. Not every suitor can be handled the same way. Rebounding back to safety can mask the bitterness and regret of a breakup. All of these types of awkward or defining moments of life don’t happen running down the streets with epiphanies in front of big crowds for maximum memory or cinematic impact. Smith and his story writing collaborator Chris Siemasko (a story artist on Netflix’s Nimona) know these truths and imbue that honesty and modesty into the picture. Produced for mere thousands of dollars with an all-hands-on-deck spirit, Guy Friends puts many, many, many big studio and streaming rom-coms to shame with that perceptiveness and attitude.

Yet, in doing so, not an ounce of comedy is lost in the movie. Guy Friends is rife with disarming humor punctuated by peppy and agile dialogue. First-time actresses Kavita Jariwala and Katie Muldowney exhibit effervescent appeal and clever chemistry with their differing and merging wavelengths of personality. Their characters and others soak up their big city and their youthful vigor sauntering to a pitch perfect piano-and-woodwind-infused score from Emi Nushida (CodeSwitching) and Haruka Sasaki. Smith’s stark monochromatic cinematography is stylishly shot with soft pushes, pans, and fades which mold a classic tone and a touch of earned whimsy for Guy Friends. The entire presentation creates a lovely environment where romance can still happen and an equal safe space where it’s always alright to laugh at the existential struggles along the way.

Written by Don Shanahan

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing here on Film Obsessive as the Editor-in-Chief and Content Supervisor for the film department. He also writes for his own website, Every Movie Has a Lesson. Don is one of the hosts of the Cinephile Hissy Fit Podcast on the Ruminations Radio Network and sponsored by Film Obsessive. As a school teacher by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Indie Critics and a voting member of the nationally-recognized Critics Choice Association, Online Film Critics Society, North American Film Critics Association, International Film Society Critics Association, Internet Film Critics Society, Online Film and TV Association, and the Celebrity Movie Awards.

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