14 year old Sandy worships next door neighbor and senior classmate Ashley like the Earth worships the sun, she says. But when the two girls accidentally off one of Ashley’s ex-lovers, the two become closer than either of them ever imagined in ‘Besties,’ a small scale coming of age story from writer and director Rebecca Perry Cutter.
Sandy has idolized Ashley for years, spying on her during steamy backyard make-out sessions and beating herself up when she feels she says something dumb to her former babysitter. When her father goes out of town one weekend, Sandy has Ashley over to babysit and the reluctant Ashley only agrees if she can throw a party. Idolization, of course, leads to emulation, and when a jailbird ex-lover shows up, Sandy is quick to let him kiss her. This leads to a scuffle in which the man is accidentally murdered and the two girls dump his body in the wild.
Ashley feigns friendship with Sandy to keep their secret safe, but complications arise in the form of the murdered man’s half-brother, who takes a liking to Sandy — and she can’t stay away because she feels so damn unlikable. Adding another layer of complexity is Ashley’s veneer of sisterhood, which is crumbling daily as Sandy’s obsession escalates and evolves into something more nebulous and confusing to the young girl, whose hormones have recently begun to bloom.
‘Besties’ is at its best when crafting small moments between the girls, whose age divide feels increasingly trite considering their separate but equally limited world views. Ashley has dreams of being a fashion designer and plans to use the wealthy parents of her beau for connections when she graduates. But what about college and good grades and merit? These things don’t matter to a mean girl like Ashley, who has never had to do much for anyone and thinks of herself as prize enough to those she may be able to get something from.
Sandy’s attraction to Ashley takes a predictable trajectory as she learns that — as with celebrities, often — the person she’s admired from afar is not the fictional goddess she’s created in her mind. Her only motivation is Ashley’s friendship and the hope that maybe she can absorb some of what she believes is the intangible magic that makes Ashley who she is to Sandy. The dialogue between the two girls is genuine to a fault — so much so that it’s often humorous. ‘Besties’ has the vapidity of ‘Mean Girls’ transposed to the coming of age world of someone like Larry Clark (‘Kids,’ ‘Bully’). Unlike Clark’s work, though, ‘Besties’ doesn’t have the same twists to the gut. Both feature situations and interactions that feel authentic, but the latter suffers from much more prominent tonal disparities.
Unfortunately, the film is as emotionally vacant as Sandy’s crocodile tears. Although Sandy is undoubtedly our emotional anchor, her actions and expressions are empty, a fact she confirms early on when she intimates via voice over that she can’t explain her obsession with Ashley — except that maybe it’s because her mom left, but if she can’t be bothered to care, then why should we? Sandy, like most teens, is a blank, porous canvas who seeks out the most attractive colors with which to paint herself to imitate those who are more fully-formed, but it’s this very characteristic that makes her ultimately hollow. We identify when she feels embarrassed or tries to fit in, but we identify more with situations than with feelings.