I Want You Back
2022, R, 115 min. Directed by Jason Orley. Starring Charlie Day, Jenny Slate, Gina Rodriguez, Scott Eastwood, Manny Jacinto, Clark Backo.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Feb. 11, 2022
Remember Addicted to Love, the off-kilter 1997 romcom in which Meg Ryan and Matthew Broderick played dumped weirdo who team up to ruin their respective exes' new relationships so they can get them back, and they end up falling in love with each other instead?
Well, I Want You Back would probably prefer it if you hadn't, because it's pretty damn similar. Well, except for not having the weird energy of having Ryan (at that point officially America's Sweetheart - we had a vote) play a kohl-eyed stalker and Mr. Unlikely Cool (Abe Froman, the sausage king of Chicago himself) as a twitchy proto-incel. Instead, it depends on two performers who Hollywood would normally cast in supporting roles: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Charlie Day and Obvious Child star Jenny Slate. It does have one other big addition, in that the former forever loves of Peter (Day) and Emma (Slate) aren't dating each other, making the plot a little less contrived but a little longer.
Unfortunately, the script is incredibly unbalanced when it comes to innovative plotting. Luckily for her, the better scenes are stacked in Slate's favor. Day gets some good lines, but he just goes off on a long night of barhopping and wild partying, trying to get affable fitness coach Noah (Eastwood) into trouble so that his ex, Ginny (Backo), will dump him. Meanwhile Slate is trying to come between middle school teacher Anne (Rodriguez) and her new flame, the disturbingly chiseled Logan (Jacinto). Off on her own, she gets the film's standout moment of silliness involving a Broadway classic, one that works for her character and somehow fits into this mildly unconventional rom com.
What I Want You Back really has going for it is Slate and Day. The set-up may be a Ryan deep cut, but their awkward energy, and shared ability to scattershot subtle one-liners without them getting buried by the sillier antics, harks back to another of her classics: When Harry Met Sally. But don't think about the leads: let the camera slide back to their best friends, played by Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby, two of the most effortlessly hysterical but understated comedy performers of the era of the blockbuster Hollywood rom com. Slate and Day have an awkward, witty relatability that can power through the unconvincing (and pretty stalkerish) behavior the script demands. They're on the same rare comedy wavelength, much like Fisher and Kirby, or Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis in the overlooked