"BFFs"-- 3 STARS

While watching a film about dysfunctional relationships, regardless of its drama or comedy slant, one cannot help but measure their own relationship against the examples they are observing on screen.  The judgmental reactions, either spoken or unspoken, cannot be contained.  To capitalize on that drawing power without going too far, frankness and believability become key.  Debuting on VOD on June 3, the film festival favorite "BFFs" can call those two storytelling essentials allies and welcomes the fun of esteem-boosting judging.

We meet Kat (Tara Karsian of Comedy Central's "Review") at an awkward evening backyard birthday party thrown in her honor by her family, led by her bluntly meddlesome mother Joan (veteran voice actress Pat Carroll).  Kat has never lived down breaking off her longest romantic relationship to date.  Unmarried and climbing in age, Kat weathers all of the regularly-thrown condescending and passive aggressive digs from her family members and cannot wait to get away from this group.  Sensing this, her longtime best friend Samantha (Andrea Grano) cooks up a scheme to get her an exit.  

Kicking back over drinks at home, Kat and Samantha go through the crappy gifts Kat received and lock onto a week-long couples retreat vacation package to "Closer to Closeness" given by Joan.  With Kat now single and loathing, Samantha talks up the free getaway angle as a chance for some lavish R&R.  She suggests they pose as a lesbian couple to gain entry, purely to soak up the perks and secretly mock with the other relationships as posers.  Upon arrival to "Closer to Closeness," Kat and Samantha meet Bob and Jacqueline (Patrick O'Connor and Australian actress Sigrid Thornton), the head gurus of the retreat armed with workbooks and schedule demands.

Bob and Jacqueline emphasis group therapy in their posh zen-like setting, meaning Kat and Samantha are joined by five other couples, including the leaders.  Those marriages and partnerships are brought to life by steady character actors like Richard Moll ("Night Court"), Broadway actress Jenny O'Hara, Larisa Oleynik ("10 Things I Hate About You"), Sean Maher ("Serenity"), Molly Hagan ("Election"), and "General Hospital" cast member Jeffrey Vincent Parise, among others.  Each of those other couples have their wildly different mannerisms, range of thorny issues, clashes of wavelengths.  

Little by little, the bizarre methods and activities in the continuing itinerary give Kat and Samantha more than they bargained for.  The openness of the others pushes the two to participate with more honesty than they intended.  They begin examining the flawed dynamics of their own close friendship with wavering speed bump moments of gained and lost trust and harmony.  Sarcasm and scam turn to sentiment and soul-bearing in unexpected and entertaining ways.  Screw Vince Vaughn's over-the-top vehicle "Couples Retreat."  "BFFs" gives you something tangible instead of preposterous.

This film was written and produced together by its leads, Tarsian and Grano, and their chemistry as titular "besties," on and off screen, is outstanding.  The strength of their combined vision directly correlates to those aforementioned narrative essentials of believability and frankness.  "BFFs" overflows with them.  These are two characters (and women) that speak their minds and flesh out real challenges with a brazen balance of humor and bravery.  Their script crackles with sharply-crafted conversational clashes written for their leads and also the full ensemble.  Beyond Kat and Samantha, the other couples put forth invested character work to create lived-in personalities that grab your interest just as strongly as the central friends.  Its dynamic and unique battle-of-the-sexes parade isn't completely for everyone.  Still, every little layer and voice in "BFFs" is fun and fascinating, creating a nice hidden gem waiting for you on VOD.

LESSON #1: ATTRACTION EMERGING OUT OF TRUST-- Applying to both romantic and platonic relationships, all good unions are based heavily on the capacity to trust the other person.  That trust creates connection and protection.  It also, when the feelings increase, can create attraction because the increases of comfort created by trust lessen the feelings of vulnerability.  Each couple, including the fake one, in the film can all point to trust as the central problem they are experiencing.  

LESSON #2: WHEN DO FEELINGS MANIFEST BETWEEN TWO PEOPLE?-- After trust is established, there is, somewhere, and it's different for every situation and person, a point where "like" turns into "love."  A spark is created that taps into a different gear of emotion.  Boundaries are softened and risks are taken when it becomes about the desired craving of love.  The longer people sustain that spark, the longer the success of the romantic relationship.

LESSON #3: AT WHAT POINT DO THOSE FEELINGS GET WEIRD?-- Moving from "like" to "love" is fine and dandy as long as those feelings are mutual and reciprocated.  That's the tricky part, finding an equal match at the right time.  One or the other person might not be ready or have that same capacity for attraction, creating unusual and unwelcome tension in an otherwise calm relationship.