‘Friend Zone’ review: Unabashed crowd-pleasing romcom

It’s not hard to surrender to the charms of ‘Friend Zone’ despite it being pre-occupied on selling a commercially-calculated romcom.

From Friends’ Joey Tribbiani to Game of Thrones’ Jorah Mormont, pop culture has taught us excellently the concept of getting #friendzoned, so much we can actually exhibit self-awareness whenever we find ourselves in that situation (or maybe not). It’s a hellish pit of loneliness: a fate worse than death, so our fallen comrades used to say. Gross Domestic Happiness’ latest offering banks on this trendy and relatable hashtag by packaging it with sugar and sparkle, making this yet again a fresh outlet for one of our most sacred frustrations in life.

Friend Zone traces back the history of flight attendant Palm’s (Naphat “Nine” Siangsomboon) ill-fated relationship with his best friend Gink (Pimchanok “Baifern” Luevisadpaibul of Crazy Little Thing Called Love) back from their high school days right up to the present. The entire timeline transpired for ten-freaking-years. Yes, that’s a decade of being stuck in the limbo. Palm may had multiple girlfriends throughout but we know very well the real score in his heart, evidenced by how he rushes to Gink’s aid whenever and wherever she pleases. Their friendship is practically borderless, except that there’s a different kind of border that he himself can’t cross.

High school versions of Palm (Nine Siangsomboom) and Gink (Baifern Luevisadpaibul) are onto something in Friend Zone.’

Let’s get this out of the way. Friend Zone is an unabashed, commercially-calculated romcom. With its goal of going international, it needs to be. It knows very well how to tickle its Asian audience’s soft spot by using a few romcom tropes in its sleeve (but not so much to its detriment). The viewing experience can be quite mixed. There’s a memorable bathtub confrontation which is both hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time. And for its cringey moments, there’s a monkey scene that practically leads to nowhere but an opportunity to let the hearthrob take off his shirt. Regardless, director Chayanop Boonprakob shows a natural knack for physical comedy to keep the narrative light, and Nine and Baifern’s bubbly chemistry makes you surrender to the film’s charms immediately. Both actors give immense depth to their roles despite the weaknesses of the screenplay.

Adding to the film’s universal appeal is its globe-trotting aspect as Gink, along with Palm, goes spying on her boyfriend Ted (Jason Young) who’s an international music producer. By doing so, it almost feels like the film is promoting a certain airline. Oh wait, it actually is. But it never comes as atrocious but rather a brilliant marketing strategy that’s well integrated in the plot. Also, what other way to reach out to ASEAN countries by having the film’s theme song translated into multiple Asian languages? For the Philippines, Claudia Barretto lends her voice and a cameo role.

The enduring third wheel: Jason Young, Nine and Baifern in ‘Friend Zone.’

That being said, the prime purpose of this film, which is to tell an earnest love/friendship story feels secondary at times. Friend Zone is boxed by its simplistic premise that its script keeps on repeating the same story beats. We find Gink and Palm doing their shenanigans across multiple countries – different situations but same insight on unrequited love. Here’s an unpopular opinion: Most Thai films are too long for their good. This one is included.

Yet with its hefty run time, the film fails to answer some essential questions. Palm is a masochist/martyr who does everything for Gink. To create an analogy, Palm is the gardener and Gink is the flower in their relationship. Why is that so? Also, Palm has every opportunity to confess his true feelings (read: ten-freaking-years) but he’s been held back by Gink’s statement which seemed like a lifetime ago, “Being friends are good enough.” At that time, sure. But circumstances have changed by then, right? The problem is that we never really get to see Gink’s full perspective to complete the equation, making Palm’s love and yearning seem unfounded. Their relationship lacks pragmatism for it to fully work on the confines of reality.

Thinking of what-ifs. Nine and Baifern in ‘Friend Zone.’

Do note that these questions occur in hindsight. At the moment, Friend Zone exists as a calculated crowd-pleaser that brings guilty-pleasure fun and romance through its sunny atmosphere and engaging performances. Still, one can’t help think that even such crowd pleasers can also generate depth and complexity more so than this. Its ending wants to rally its viewers by offering the secret to crossing the border, which is none other than manning up and expressing your feelings. That, too, has been under our noses this whole time.

3 out of 5 stars
Directed by Chayanop Boonprakob, written by Pattaranad Bhiboonsawade, Chayanop Boonprakob and Thodsapon Thiptinnakorn, ‘Friend Zone’ stars Naphat “Nine” Siangsomboon, Pimchanok “Baifern” Leuwisetpaiboon, Jason Young, Benjamin Joseph Varney, Nutthasit Kotimanuswanich, Sukhapat Lohwacharin, Boom Suvagondha and Chertsak Pratumsrisakhon. 118 minutes.

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