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A Summer Place (1959) was the ultimate drive-in movie. Sunny seaside locations, a great theme (by veteran Max Steiner), disapproving parents, suggestive teens in skimpy outfits… what more did audiences want? Troy Donahue and Sandra Dee and the genre as a whole were soon swept away in the 1960s youth-quake of sex, drugs and Beatles.
In Just Friends – another kind of beach movie – Yad (Majd Mardo) and Joris (Josha Stradowski) are chalk and cheese. One is blond, one’s dark; one’s straight(ish), one’s gay; one’s in motorcycle leathers, one’s in a floral satin bomber; one is a gym bunny, one is a stoner. One is rich and one is poor. A gay Romeo and Juliet might not be the most original idea but here it’s done with visually compelling panache.
We are in a futuristic Holland of offshore wind farms and recreational drones. No Dutch gables and canals – “Amsterdam is so overrated,” is a refrain. The only thing both men seem to have in common is a disconnect with their families. One theme of the movie is the need and loss of parental approval. The guys “meet cute” when Yad becomes a cleaner/carer for the other’s gran (Jenny Arean), a sharp old darling with a lace doily over her flat-screen telly. Oh, and Joris’s dad’s died and there is a recurring gag about what to do with his ashes.
The boys’ on/off love affair is a little predictable at times though it’s told with verve at the beginning. A scene when they share earphones recalls Bette Davis and Paul Henreid and their two cigarettes routine in 40s weepie Now, Voyager. Away from the über-liberal Amsterdam many of the old, anti-gay prejudices remain. Beneath the smooth polished surface lies an uneasy mix of unexpressed grief and clammy desire.
Sometimes the straight characters are more interesting than the gay leads – the glam mum and wise Nan, for instance. Every boy should have one or the other. “Love can’t be controlled, it controls you,” says Nan sagely while the shallow mum (Tanja Jess) reveals depths of love for Joris’s dead dad that her son had hitherto never seen and echoes his with Yad.