DIRECTOR: Jason Orley

CAST: Charlie Day, Jenny Slate, Gina Rodriguez, Scott Eastwood, Manny Jacinto, Clark Backo, Jami Gertz, Jordan Carlos, Midori Francis, Mason Gooding, Isabel May, Luke David Blumm, Dylan Gelula, Pete Davidson

RUNNING TIME: 111 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: Two scorned exes (Day and Slate) team up to sabotage their former partners’ (Rodriguez and Eastwood) new relationships…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

As was the case with Marry Me just last week, you don’t need to be completely original or subversive with rom-com conventions to work: all it takes is a good amount of charm and wisdom when working with the expected tropes, and you have yourself a good example of the same old formula. Take Amazon’s new rom-com I Want You Back, for instance; you know exactly what you’re getting into when you start watching it, and it does a good job at being exactly that, but it’s astonishing what a little bit of sweet charisma can bring to something old and worn, which in this case is enough to completely win you over to its side.

The film begins when our two protagonists, Peter (Charlie Day) and Emma (Jenny Slate), are both dumped by their respective other halves, Anne (Gina Rodriguez) and Noah (Scott Eastwood). Since they happen to work in the same building – he for a retirement home conglomerate, she as a dentist’s receptionist – their paths cross, and they form a friendship as they vent over their emotional break-ups. After finding out that both Anne and Noah have moved on very quickly to other relationships, Peter and Emma decide to covertly ruin their newfound loves and worm their way back into their lives, with Emma targeting Anne’s new squeeze Logan (Manny Jacinto), the pretentious drama teacher working at the same school as her, while Peter befriends Noah in an effort to lure her away from pie show owner Ginny (Clark Backo). Of course, things don’t entirely go to plan, especially when the sparks between Peter and Emma are too much to ignore.

Like I said, you know exactly what to expect from I Want You Back, and it delivers on each one of those expectations accordingly. However, that doesn’t mean the film itself isn’t short on a number of positive attributes or even – dare I say it? – surprises within its familiar model, one of such being that you really, really do like these two main characters, even if their main goals are, to put it mildly, extremely selfish. Both Charlie Day and Jenny Slate work great together here, and you really buy why either of them would set out to win back their exes through nefarious methods because the actors allow the audience plenty of moments to empathise with them, as well as seeing things from their heartbroken point of view. They also have a lot of sweet character arcs, including Jenny Slate slowly learning to take control of her freefalling life, which includes bonding with a troublemaking young kid she meets during her own ruse, as well as an exceptionally awkward threesome, and Charlie Day becoming more impulsive after his ex complained that he played things far too safe in their relationship. It’s enough to really make you root for these two as people and also as a prospective couple, which is only inevitable in rom-coms like this but the way that I Want You Back leads to this outcome is entirely understandable and natural.

The movie is pleasingly made, eschewing much of the oddly static and polished look that most direct-to-streaming movies seem to have; often, movies that head straight to Netflix or Prime Video or Disney+ often look like higher-budgeted sitcoms than anything theatrical, but not this one, for there are some pleasant shots of the city and in scenes where Day and Slate are just having fun being break-up buddies. Director Jason Orley is certainly alert at all times, making sure there are enough light chuckles to carry scenes as well as some fun small roles which stand out, including SNL actor Pete Davidson (the star of Orley’s previous film Big Time Adolescence) who shows up during one extended sequence. The script, too, allows for some key characters to shine in unexpected circumstances, like Slate belting out a rendition of “Suddenly, Seymour” from Little Shop of Horrors – for context, it’s the school play that Manny Jacinto’s character is directing – and Day taking MDMA and jumping into hot tubs from a balcony.

Again, and I really cannot stress this enough, I Want You Back is not setting out to change the rom-com rulebook forever, as it does follow a number of the usual conventions down to a tee. But, as with Marry Me, does it even matter when, at the end of the day, it’s still using them in such a charming way that you’re still thoroughly hooked on this story and these characters? Rom-coms are, and most likely always will be, formulaic to a fault, but that’s perfectly okay; there’s a reason that the genre has stuck around for so long, because it is a near-faultless structure that does make the viewer feel good and romantic all at once, and when certain conventions happen to be done in a charming and endearing way, then it makes for comfortable viewing. That’s exactly what I Want You Back is, just a comfortable and very likeable rom-com that knows what it is, but also does as best it can with the materials it’s been given.

SO, TO SUM UP…

I Want You Back is a pleasant rom-com which plays a number of familiar conventions with such charm and likeability, made possible by the strong pairing of Charlie Day and Jenny Slate who carry this pleasingly-made film all the way to its predictable, but still endearing, conclusion.

I Want You Back is now available on Amazon Prime Video.

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