Friends Reunion Review: The one where the beloved cast's 'one last hurrah' was bright, bittersweet & beautiful
27 years ago, Friends became our go-to companion during our happiest and darkest moments. In 2021, the cast reunites for one last hurrah which made us laugh, cry and hit us right in the nostalgic feels.
*SPOILERS ALERT* Amongst a subtle yet impressive moment in Friends: The Reunion is just seconds before Lisa Kudrow strums her guitar sitting on the iconic orange couch at Central Perk and belts out Smelly Cat. In mere seconds, the supremely talented yet underrated actress transforms into the flaky Phoebe Buffay, like it was a cakewalk for her, as it successfully transported us back to the 1994-2004 golden years. Even while talking about first impressions, David Schwimmer aptly commented on how even though he only encountered the cast for the first time during Friends' first-ever table read, he just knew instantly how tailor-made the six characters and the carefully curated ensemble really was.
We especially witness that during the hilarious table read for The One Where Everybody Finds Out with Lisa and David's brilliant method acting and voice modulation in tow. The fact that I still laughed at an almost two-decade-old joke speaks volumes about Friends' universal relatability. A 'Friends Reunion' has been a trending topic ever since we had to kiss goodbye to the unanimously loved squad goals - Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston), Monica Geller (Courteney Cox), Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow), Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc), Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry) and Ross Geller (David Schwimmer). Hence, it was almost like a bittersweet symphony to have the reunion kickstart with the finale ending shot of an empty Monica and Chandler's apartment (with only their keys on the table!) and a heartbreaking close up of the trademark purple door with the yellow peephole frame, which back then had destroyed 54 million hearts.
One by one, the cast enters the intricately remade sets and immediately jumps top gear into nostalgia. Even the hugs had an emotional quality interlaced, bringing back such pleasant memories. Upon her entrance, Jennifer instantly bursts into tears and that's exactly how fans, including this writer, are being hit right in the feels from the very get-go. The reunion swiftly gains more pace as we're transitioned from one planned segment to the other like a still to be solved Rubik's Cube. James Corden, whose 'fountain sound' gimmick almost spoiled the broth like the beef in Rachel's dessert, took over the hosting duties asking "cheeky" questions to the cast in front of a live 'mask covered' audience with the historic fountain and orange couch as the must-need essential props.
However, it's the sequences with just the six friends, which are most profound as the actors recollect fond but forgotten memories. While we perfectly remember the episode where the characters threw a ball between them for almost a day, Schwimmer admits to Aniston that he doesn't remember the episode. Matt, David and Lisa even share how they've been watching a few episodes with their kids, laughing at and cheering for their friends' performances. When the cast reveals that at a party, if they encountered each other, they'd neglect whoever it is they came with and instead spend time together as if they were back on sets, you understand just how endearing their bond truly is, even though it's the first time in 17 years when the six actors were under the same roof. Even when David and Jennifer comment on how Lisa and Courteney smell good, LeBlanc wipes Cox's tears and when they laugh out loud while reacting to their own bloopers, it's an out of body experience as a die-hard fan to catch these candid camaraderie moments between six individuals with a lifelong friendship like no other. What made it more heartfelt is that in comparison to the behind-the-scenes footages from their time on Friends, where they spent hours each day together, their comfort equation remains intact, almost two decades later, even with so much distance between them not meeting each other daily like they used to once upon a time. In their own recollecting moments, the fans are also reviving memories of a journey that felt very personal to them, although fictional.
While Friends' Oprah interview on the iconic Central Perk sets and the orange couch in tow, back in 2003, remains their most brutally honest conversation to date, tackling Perry's drug addiction, negotiating their contracts, the media scrutiny, etc, Friends: The Reunion only casually stumbles upon these vulnerable conversations, opting to play it safe and gloss over instead. Like Matthew leaving the cast stumped with his honest revelation of how he felt the "pressure" of a live studio audience, thinking he'd die if he didn't make them laugh and how he would "freak out" every single night of taping and "would sweat and go into convulsions." A distraught Kudrow revealed that Perry never shared this vulnerable confession with them until that very moment, which is understandable given how Matthew's sarcastic humour, similar to Chandler's, was an atmosphere lifter during the live tapings. However, the intense chat was swiftly swept under the rug and they moved on to a lighter sequence of Chandler and Monica's London hookup reaction by the live audience and how Perry instructed Courteney on an impromptu gag that had everyone wiping their laugh-induced tears. (More on that below!). While Matt recounted how he once saw the news channel with a six-screen look at the cast's home rooftops, with helicopter sounds blazing through, shedding light on how they were hounded by media and public attention, LeBlanc then quips with his roof being a mess joke. However, considerable attention was directed at Matt's freak accident during the filming of The One Where No One's Ready, where he dislocated his shoulder during the only time when the cast didn't do their famous huddle before a shoot. While the rest of the cast was traumatised reliving that scary video, it became a tradition to always do a huddle, at any cost.
Nonetheless, Friends thrived on being your comfort blanket to rid you away from the demons inside and that's the outlook that Friends: The Reunion also envisioned; to make us laugh, cry but never overwhelm. When it comes to the guest stars, none overstayed their welcome and were perfect fillers to advocate the 10 glorious years of Friends as memorable characters like Richard Burke (Tom Selleck, how does he still look so evergreen?!), Jack Geller (Elliot Gould), Judy Geller (Christiana Pickles), Janice Hosenstein (Maggie Wheeler, my personal favourite cameo appearance) and Gunther (James Michael Tyler) were given short, subtle and sweet odes. Elliot and Judy's endearing words about how they actually felt like the cast's parents was a heartwarming moment in every sense of the way. Yes, Aniston's "fella" aka Mr. Brad Pitt's cameo was also discussed amongst the cast while Jennifer couldn't help but tease Matthew about his ex-girlfriend Julia Roberts' guest appearance. Even stars like BTS, Reese Witherspoon (who played Rachel's sister Jill Green), David Beckham and Kit Harington represented fans when they shared why they adored Friends as much as they did which was layered with fans from India, Japan, etc. sharing their uplifting stories of how Friends influenced their lives for the better.
We also get a bizarre Justin Bieber as Ross' Halloween costume Sputnik moment, Cara Delevigne rocking Rachel's hideous pink bridesmaid dress with equal vigour as Ross' Armadillo costume. Matt adorned all of Chandler's clothes once again and even followed it up with some lunges. But it was criminal to not have Paul Rudd be a part of the reunion as Phoebe's husband Mike Hannigan was an instrumental asset during the final few seasons, which fans will wholeheartedly agree upon, and Phoebe and Mike's quirky love story deserved the same spotlight as Ross and Rachel and Chandler and Monica got.
If there was a flaw in Friends: The Reunion, it was the mismatched editing, with Ben Winston's chaotic, overfilled vision, that failed to instil a constant sway of emotions within the fans watching. We're quickly taken from The Apartment Quiz segment to the friends alone chilling on the orange couch to them chilling on the couch with Corden and a live audience asking them questions like, "Were Ross and Rachel on a break?" and then back to Monica's apartment. You're laughing or tearing up one instant and before you can fathom said reaction, you're transported to another location. Even the abrupt cuts can be distracting at points but as a loyal fan, you let go of these technicalities. Would I have preferred just a conversation between the six friends? Yes. However, at the end of the day, it's all about the fan service.
Amongst the most shocking revelations which would instantly grab headlines from Friends: The Reunion was Schwimmer and Aniston confessing how they almost became a couple IRL, which then transitions to them recreating their epic 'first kiss' sequence at the table read and also shows us footage of them filming the iconic "I got off the plane" reunion, and after the instruction of "Cut," the pair refused to let go as a decade of playing the much-adored Ross and Rachel came to its culminating end. The fact that Friends' creators Marta Kauffman, David Crane and executive producer/director Kevin S. Bright; who each earned credible screen time talking about how their own lives, family, friends and stories inspired Friends and the strenuous casting process, almost didn't give Ross and Rachel a happy ending was unfathomable to digest. Even the hysteria behind Chandler and Monica's shocking London one night stand was shown as the live audience went berserk and played a vital role in establishing the couple's on-screen journey, especially with the fact that the creators initially wanted Mondler as a filler couple rather than endgame. The rest as they say is history! It was also the footage from when the cast wrapped their final Friends sequence and walked out of Monica and Chandler's apartment and shared emotional, tear-jerking hugs, which was just theirs to have and to hold in private, that makes you understand the gravity that Friends holds not just in fans' hearts but the OG6 cast members as well. The taking down of the sets immediately post filming and the wrap party that followed was such a closure moment. (P.S. Matt's "I s**t here" inscription was hilarious!)
It's also understandable why Friends: The Reunion went this interview-style route rather than making a movie or series reboot. Understandably, the cast is not in their 20's and 30's anymore, and actually look their age as Lisa said it best with how the creators gave their characters their happy endings, which she doesn't want to be "unravelled." Point taken! Courteney hits our melancholic hearts when she makes one realise how this is definitely a full stop on Friends' journey, even though the legacy lives on, and that a reunion won't take place during the 50th year mark.
To hear the insane figures of how Friends has been watched 100 billion times all across the globe doesn't seem as astonishing given the relatable factor it still holds, 17 years on, with the older and younger generation, where relatably "your job's a joke, you're broke, your love life's DOA." 27 years ago, Rachel, in a wedding dress dashed her way through Central Perk, made five friends and gave us a fictional squad to root for along with an everlasting bond. They were there for us all these years, and were by our side one more time, for one last hurrah! Could it be any more poetic?!