The Old Familiar Feeling, by Bob Connally

9 Feb

Romantic comedies were once plentiful. A trip to see one at the theater would be accompanied by trailers for six more coming in the following months. But over the past decade or so they’ve become few and far between with most of those going straight to a streaming service. I Want You Back feels like the sort of movie you would have gone to on a date in 1997, but in 2022 you’ll find it on Amazon Prime. In so many other ways though it feels like a movie from 1997, from its story beats to its characters to its music cues. It’s predictable and derivative, yet there’s something cosy and enjoyable about it. It knows what it is, its leads are likable and have great chemistry, and it’s legitimately funny, if not hilarious. It’s a perfectly alright little movie that you’ll forget about but you won’t regret having watched.

Emma (Jenny Slate) and Peter (Charlie Day) have never met but they run into each other on the stairwell of their office building, both in tears. Emma was just dumped by her boyfriend, Noah (Scott Eastwood) while Peter’s girlfriend, Anne (Gina Rodriguez) broke up with him at her nephew’s birthday party. Emma and Peter bond over their mutual sadness and then hatch a plan to get Noah and Anne back, respectively. The problem is that Noah is now with health food restaurateur, Ginny (Clark Backo) and Anne is dating drama teacher, Logan (Manny Jacinto, The Good Place). The plan is sort of a romantic comedy version of Strangers on a Train. Emma will attempt to seduce Logan to break them up for Peter while Peter will befriend Noah in order to undermine his relationship with Ginny for Emma. Aside from just being pathetic, the plan is just kind of diabolical, but thanks to Slate and Day, we have sympathy for Emma and Peter. This gambit aside, they seem like decent people and we know where this is going to end up for them anyway, so seeing their interactions together is where the real fun of the movie is. It feels like a real blossoming friendship that evolves into something else and the dynamic between the two is pretty delightful to watch and not surprisingly, they’re both very funny.

Written by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger and directed by Jason Orley, this is aware that its protagonists are also its antagonists. It doesn’t do much with that idea but if you’re really expecting that from this kind of movie then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Despite the fact that Noah was already seeing Ginny behind Emma’s back before he broke up with her, the film doesn’t take him to task for it. If anything, the movie wants us to like him which seems a bit of an odd decision and even kind of a missed opportunity as making him a jerk could give the film more comedic opportunities. From what little we see of Ginny, she seems like a kind person but that’s about all we get. Anne meanwhile is a blank slate, with Rodriguez doing her best to make something of an underwritten character. Thankfully, Logan is fleshed out enough to give Jacinto a chance to shine as a pompous middle school drama teacher. In the end, we kind of like him too though.

Ultimately, there aren’t a lot of surprises here and for what this movie is, that’s perfectly fine. You’ll see most of it’s story developments coming from miles away but it’s in the execution that I Want You Back keeps its audience on its side. It’s nothing special but it’s a nice movie that has some laughs and doesn’t overstay its welcome. In fact, the movie just kind of stops. It knows there’s no need to belabor the point and when it reaches the story’s conclusion, it says that’s that. And now so will I.

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