Charlie Day and Jenny Slate star in 'I Want You Back'
By dint of their paint-by-numbers scripts and their lack of special effects, contemporary rom-coms tend to be straightforward and cost-effective productions. That's one reason why streaming services have pumped out so many of them in recent years. In theory, film budgets can be spent on attracting star power instead of creating elaborate costumes or CGI. But even with A- or B-listers in romantic leads, many of the streaming originals released during the pandemic seem to have been conceived foremost as background noise: written without imagination or dredged up from the bottom of a slush pile, directed and performed without heart.
Did anyone catch 2020's Love Wedding Repeat
with Sam Claflin and Olivia Munn, for example? It was trash, the kind of half-baked movie that felt like it was filmed over the course of a single weekend, where no one particularly cared if a line of dialogue was misdelivered. What about last year's Love Hard,
a joyless homage to both Love, Actually
and Die Hard
starring Silicon Valley's Jimmy O. Yang?
Cringiest movie of the Holiday season without any close runner-up. Absolute doo doo.
The recent poverty of the genre is one reason why I Want You Back,
Amazon's Valentine's Day rom-com release starring Charlie Day and Jenny Slate, is such a breath of fresh air. It doesn't attempt to reinvent the wheel or complicate the basic formula with gimmicks or seasonal themes. In fact, it adheres precisely to rom-coms' tried-and-true conventions and does so with an ensemble cast playing relatable characters. That's a win for director Jason Orley (Big Time Adolescence)
and writers Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger (Love, Simon)
in my book.
As with most rom-coms, a logline is sufficient to capture the the film's total plot. Two recently dumped thirtysomethings (Day and Slate) who work in the same office building attempt to break up their exes (Gina Rodriguez, Scott Eastwood, respectively), and their new significant others. And boom, they're off to the races! Our heroes have regular jobs (nursing home VP; receptionist at an orthodontist) and live in a regular city (Atlanta) and do regular things like make bad decisions on their phones, (stalking exes on Instagram, getting drunk and leaving pathetic voicemails, etc.)
"I think I must have butt dialed you," Eastwood's character tells Slate while in the club during one scene.
"Yeah, I think I must have butt answered you," she responds. Incredible!
There's some hokeyness, and a forced callback in the film's final third, but that's to be expected. Mostly, it's a showcase for Day and Slate, lovable comedic talents who lean into roles that honestly grapple with romantic and personal ambitions. And while the two-hour runtime may seem excessive, there are tradeoffs. Like for example, it's rare to see a rom-com give its supporting characters more than 2D treatment. This one does! (Love, Simon
was actually similar in that respect.)
The lasting impression is one of relief: that rom-coms can still deliver on their basic promise to sweetly and sentimentally entertain.
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