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Just Awful

A CINEMATIC VIEW

By Robert E. Lauder | May 1986

Anyone who loves movies will risk severe dis­couragement by seeing Just Between Friends. What is seriously wrong with many contemporary films can be seen in one painful viewing of this ex­pensively made but extraordinarily superficial film.

Written and directed by Allan Burns, Just Be­tween Friends explores, but with no depth at all, the friendship between an upper-middle class, hap­pily married, and very proper mother of two teen­agers, Holly Davis (Mary Tyler Moore), and a sin­gle, wise-cracking television news broadcaster, Sandy Dunlap (Christine Lahti). The two women meet at an aerobics class. Holly, who regularly at­tends class and is exceptionally good at aerobics, agrees to help out Helga (Salome Jens) by teaching one class. Short of help and also short on cash, Helga is slowly moving the exercise parlor toward bankruptcy. Nervous and self-conscious as she be­gins the class, Holly nevertheless briskly puts the class members through their paces. Several times during the exercises her eyes meet Sandy’s and a mysterious rapport begins. After class the two la­dies decide to go for a bite to eat. Though they are very different, a friendship begins to blossom for some unrevealed reason. Earlier in the film Sandy has interviewed Holly’s seismologist husband, Chip (Ted Danson), on television. However, even after having met Holly, she does not know that Holly is married to Chip. Having missed the television inter­view, Holly does not know that Sandy is the newscaster who interviewed her husband.

We, the audience, find out shortly after the meeting between Holly and Sandy that more hap­pened on the evening of the interview than talk. One evening after having met Holly, Sandy is roaming around her kitchen listening to the playback on her message machine. We hear a man’s voice. His message reveals that he is her lover. As he remarks how much he loves her and how much he wishes he could be with her, the camera slowly moves in to­ward Sandy moving near her refrigerator. With ap­propriately solemn music on the soundtrack, the camera zooms sufficiently close so that we can see pasted on the refrigerator a snapshot of Sandy and Chip. The scene is filmed very seriously. A few days later Sandy goes to the Davis home to meet Holly’s husband and to have dinner with Holly, her husband, and family friend Harry Crandall (Sam Waterston). When Sandy and Chip see one another the scene is played for laughs. In these two scenes we have part of the problem that plagues Just Be­tween Friends. Author/director Burns can’t decide whether he wants his film to play for laughs or for tears. Actually he seems to have decided to go for both, but unfortunately he achieves neither.

The plot developments after the dinner party are preposterous. They are pure soap opera and tel­evision situation comedy. A couple of times I thought the film was going to probe a serious issue, but no sooner did my hopes rise than they were dashed to pieces by Burns’s rollercoaster shifts of mood.

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