Who says there aren’t any good romantic comedies anymore? Sometimes it just takes a bright idea, a talented cast, good writers and a director who keeps things grounded in enough “romantic” reality to prevent going over the top with the “comedy” part.
That is exactly the case with I Want You Back, Amazon’s gift for Valentine’s Day weekend that has a very funny, and relatable, premise dealing with the aftermath of a breakup — actually, make that two breakups — and a determination by the aggrieved dumped parties to get their “soulmates” back by breaking up their respective new relationships. Now this is a thin storyline if isn’t executed with precision and some serious smarts that enable a germ of an amusing idea to stretch to nearly two hours without flailing around at the halfway mark.
Director Jason Orley (Big Time Adolescence) and writers Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger (Love, Simon, This Is Us) bring some of their own romantic experience to keep this all working on a level where it is wild at times but always believable enough to keep us engaged. Their stars Charlie Day and Jenny Slate, aided by a well-used supporting cast, help turn this all into a new age La Ronde that is thoroughly contemporary and oddly old-fashioned enough to recall the genre in better days when it was working at a higher decibel than the average movie passing for rom-com these days. Orley, it turns out, is a disciple of Nancy Meyers, who I believe rules this genre, and he has learned very well what works and what doesn’t.
Day (Horrible Bosses) is Peter, an executive for a retirement home corporation who has just been dumped by longtime girlfriend Anne (Gina Rodriguez), who longs for more adventure in her life than this nice and content by-the-numbers guy can offer. After six years it is over, and she has moved on to a new relationship at the school where she teaches, taking up with the drama teacher Logan (Manny Jacinto), who is currently staging a middle school production of the musical Little Shop of Horrors.
Meanwhile, we also meet Emma (Slate), who has been dumped by her trainer boyfriend Noah (Scott Eastwood), who is venturing out with his new GF Ginny (Clark Backo). So it turns out that Peter and Emma work in the same office building (she is a receptionist for an orthodontist) and meet “cute” in the stairwell where both are drowning in sorrow. This turns into a friendship of sadness as they go out to drink away their blues and jointly commiserate about the coincidence of being dumped by the loves of their lives on the same day. This, however, leads to a more complex relationship when they come upon the idea to help each other out, immerse themselves individually into the life of each of their exes and effectively cause them to break up with their new loves, thereby returning to Peter and Emma.
So Emma finds her way into the rehearsals for Logan’s play, even to the point of filling in as the lead of Audrey at the dress rehearsal when the kid playing the role gets sick. She also befriends a shy kid who’s stuck helping out on the sets as punishment for something he did. Conversely, Peter dons his best gym attire and signs up for a series of training sessions with Noah, and they instantly become buddies as Noah takes this sad sack under his wing in order to get him out of his funk and introduce him to new women. With the permission of Ginny, they have a wild boys’ night out, first at a club where Noah gets Peter to hook up with a trio of girls and then to a private house where the sh*t hits the fan when they discover they are underage. Among the guests there is a guy played by none other than Pete Davidson in a cameo for his Big Time Adolescence director Orley.
Just when you have this thing figured out, it takes off in a new direction, especially when Emma gets Anne and Logan to join her for drinks after a rehearsal and slyly suggests they all get together after the play’s opening night to have a “threesome.” Obviously she thinks Logan will jump at the chance, like many men might, but she’s in for a surprise with Anne’s response. Will this get Anne to dump Logan and run back to Peter? And what about Peter trying to break up Noah and Ginny? It all goes round and round, and fans of rom-coms are in for a treat with this one even at those inevitable moments when it drifts a little too close to the edge of absurdity.
Day, who is a skilled comic actor, gets his first full-blown romantic lead here and delivers a funny but sweet turn as a buttoned-up guy finding that maybe he should venture out of his comfort zone. Slate never has been as appealing and even gets a show-stopping version of “Suddenly Seymour” to belt out. Rodriguez nicely offers support, and Eastwood gets to try his hand at comedy and does just fine. And the soundtrack is full of great song choices.
Producers are Peter Safran, John Rickard, Aptaker and Berger. Amazon begins streaming it on Friday. Check out my video review with scenes from the film at the link above.
Do you plan to see I Want You Back? Let us know what you think.