If the writers of Mean Girls took a stab at adapting The Great Gatsby, the best-case scenario is that they'd arrive at a film in which the society of the very wealthy is revealed for what it really is: cliques of furiously banal gossips that have more in common with a high school cafeteria than a court of noble elites.
This seems to be the goal of Paul Kampf's Best Fake Friends, a new movie shot and set in Portland about a naive, nouveau riche housewife who finds herself swept up in a group of "fun moms" who always have a flask of tequila in case their upper-crust chardonnay parties get too dry. And yet while the film starts with a good idea—like hitting the tequila to spice up a dull party—the film eventually goes somewhat off the rails, also like hitting the tequila to spice up a dull party.
Joy (Lauren Bowles), a recently laid-off journalist, finds herself in Portland after her husband relocates the family to take a lucrative new job. Joy spends increasingly more time with the fun moms, filling her days with trips to the spa, extravagant shopping, and late nights partying with wine, weed, coke, Adderall and anything else she can dump in her body.
But with two kids and a husband at home, it's only a matter of time before her daughter starts trying out Joy's new habits—like drinking and smoking—and the husband gets fed up with her hard partying. Making matters worse, it seems Nikki (Victoria Smurfit), the devious, image-obsessed, alpha mom of the neighborhood, is always around with her collection of drugs and her deeply unsettling smile.
Amid some solid acting, an interesting premise, and some legitimately funny gags, Best Fake Friends quickly gets unintentionally sinister. That a story about a housewife hitting a late-blooming, hard-drug phase could be played as a comedy isn't unimaginable with someone like Melissa McCarthy as the lead. But you wouldn't then expect it to pull off an emotionally fraught set of story lines involving infidelity, poverty, abuse and neglect we see attempted here.
And who knows what the audience is supposed to do with some of the more bewildering scenes, such as when Nikki performs oral sex on a 17-year-old for a dime bag. Someone show her to a dispensary!
Joy's glamorous lifestyle certainly isn't part of the gritty, Van Santian vision of Portland, but it's probably becoming a more accurate description of the city every day. While the movie is sold as a dramedy, Best Fake Friends sometimes doesn't seem to know what kind of film it wants to be.
C+ Best Fake Friends is unrated. It opens Friday at Cinema 21. 2 and 6:45 pm. A Q&A with director Paul Kampf follows the 6:45 screening.