Holly Davis is a former dancer whose identity has been wrapped up in her roles as a suburban wife and mother of two children. Despite her accomplishments in the home, she is insecure and dependent on her husband in every way. When Holly's aerobics teacher asks her to substitute in class, she approaches the task with fear and trembling.
Sandy Dunlap is a field reporter for a television station. She is single, sarcastic, bright and aggressive. After the exercise session, she and Holly get together to share their inner feelings. Holly confesses that she would like to gain more self-confidence and find a fulfilling activity apart from her family; Sandy expresses her desire to land a television news anchor spot and to have a child which she would raise as a single parent.
Allan Burns, the Emmy Award-winning co-creator of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and screen writer of A Little Romance, makes his directing debut with Just Between Friends, and it is an impressive one. Whereas other movies about women's friendship have focused mainly on the value of kindred spirits in an unkind world, this film accents the complexity of a relationship which must bear the burden of betrayal, disappointment, jealousy, and anger.
Visiting the Davis home for a dinner party, Sandy discovers that her lover Chip is Holly's husband. She immediately ends the affair. When he later dies in an automobile accident, Holly turns to her friend for emotional support. With the same bravado she displays at work, Sandy loans Holly the money she needs to take over the management of the exercise salon. However, the supportive relationship is destroyed when Holly learns that Sandy was Chip's mistress. The situation grows even more complicated after Sandy gives birth to Chip's child.
As Sandy, Christine Lahti puts in the strongest performance of her career (…And Justice For All, Whose Life Is It Anyway and Swing Shift). She is captivating as this outwardly sassy and inwardly vulnerable woman who yearns for a quiet center and some source of nurturance in her hectic life. Mary Tyler Moore's Holly comes across as a traditional woman who in the face of tragedy finds the inner resources to stand on her own two feet as a successful entrepreneur. Although not as colorful or dramatic as Lahti's, Moore's performance is admirable. Ted Danson as Chip and Sam Waterston as his best friend are good in supporting roles.
Just Between Friends begins with the intimacy of two women friends, proceeds to the enmity which develops between them, and concludes with their satisfactory reconciliation. The unique bonds of friendship between women, according to Burns, can withstand the assaults of betrayal and anger. What makes this story so appealing is that Holly and Sandy are reunited out of strength rather than out of dependency.