Not Friends (2023)

Watch the trailer first…

There are movies whose trailers conveniently summarise the entire plot. When I first saw the trailer before the screening of The Boy and the Heron, I could connect the dots and map out the plot: a bitter student named Pae (Anthony Buisseret) is befriended by Joe (Pisitpol Ekaphongpisit) much to his displeasure. Soon, Joe dies in a car accident and Pae sees the perfect opportunity to get into the good book by making a short film to commemorate Joe’s death even though he has no real connection to Joe. To complicate matters, Joe’s friend Bokeh (Thitiya Jirapornsilp) knows Pae is using Joe’s demise for selfish reasons.

You got that right?

But I still wanted to see the movie because there is something about character redemption arcs that I love. Seeing a bad person break good sounded like a nice way to spend 2 hours, but I was totally blown away and completely bowled over by a third act twist I never saw coming. The trailer wisely never gave away any hint of this and when the revelation dropped the movie became emotionally complex, my favourite territory in narratives.

Even if the initial setup of and the cascading events are formulaic, there is something affable and relatable about the characters. It reminded me of the friends I once had and the friendships forged during that period of life were never cosmic events. They tend to be based on common and aligned interests, and defined by fun and social activities. I am still friends with many, friends I made in my adolescent years.

The first two acts of the movie coast along like carefree laughter in the school canteen and it is also a love letter to cinema. Then it evolves to examine the nature of friendship between teenagers – like what constitutes a close friend, how does others define you as a good friend, how you define friendship for yourself and how one can never truly know another whom you called a friend. I loved some of ideas of friendship presented like a scene in a bus when Pae shares with Joe a secret he is ashamed of and Joe affirms him by saying he is a friend to him from this moment onwards and not from that episode in the past.

The performances by the two leads are fantastic and even Ekaphongpisit in the flashback sequences is great. They are very natural and wacky in their roles. In them I see myself in the past, a time when the pressures of life still do not have a stranglehold on me.

Not Friends is one of those rare movies that trod lightfootedly towards a pre-ordained destination, then suddenly swerved unexpectedly from the left field and totally charmed my socks off and even earned some tears. It also happens to be chosen by Thailand to compete in next year’s Oscars in the Best International Film category. I doubt it will land up in the long list because it is not the type of film the Academy typically votes for. Don’t let that stop you from checking it out and it might remind you of a time when you have friends like Pae, Bokeh and Joe.

4 / 5