Going Home for the Holidays
Going home for the holidays can bring up mixed emotions for a lot of people. It’s always nice to go home and visit with family, of course, but there’s something indescribable about the experience of staying in your old house.
You’re lying in your old bed, staring at the posters you put up in high school of your favorite bands and movies, while trying to ignore how your mom is now using your bedroom as a storage facility for all the hobbies she suddenly has time for now that she’s not busy taking care of you. It’s at once a reminder of how much things have changed and how they’ve stayed the same.
Just Friends is perhaps one of the least heartwarming examples of the “home for the holidays” trope, but it’s one of my favorites. Chris Brander, played by Ryan Reynolds, returns home to New Jersey after several years in Los Angeles getting into shape and becoming a bigshot record executive. He reconnects with his high school BFF Jamie and is determined to become more than friends, now that he’s the suave and dreamy version of his younger self.
But you can’t escape your past, and no matter how much you might try, your upbringing and your hometown and your dumb siblings will always be a part of who you are. I’ve always loved the elements of this film that show Chris trying to reconcile the two versions of himself. He clearly thinks that he’s way too good for his hometown, but at every step he’s thwarted by the past pulling him back in.
His perfect veneers are ruined in a hockey game gone awry, giving him the retainer and lisp of his youth; instead of his rented sports car, he has to drive around in his mom’s station wagon; a local diner will only serve him a giant plate of dessert pancakes, since that’s what he always ordered in high school; his younger brother spitefully reminds him that, “you’ll always be fat to me!”
It’s only when he is able to make peace with his past and learns to appreciate at least some of charms of his small town upbringing that he’s able to experience true happiness and begin a healthy adult relationship with Jamie. And on Christmas, no less!