I Want You Back may be predictable, but it can be absurdly funny and dangerously sweet.
This review of Amazon original film I Want You Back does not contain spoilers
The rom-com once left for dead has made a comeback of late. Becoming a staple on streaming, ever since Netflix’s Set It Up (2018), young adults have reclaimed the genre for themselves since 61% of young adults use streaming channels exclusively to watch film and television. It’s not that filmmakers have started to improve the quality. It’s the fact that they have found a reprieve on streaming where there is no pressure for box office receipts, and they can now be made on the cheap and in volume. I Want You Back is a movie that doesn’t precisely discredit that theory. It can be absurdly funny, sweet-natured, yet predictably straightforward even when it tries hard to be different than the rest.
I Want You Back is the second romantic comedy film Amazon Prime has released in consecutive weeks. (The other being the timid Book of Love). Written by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, the writing team behind Love, Simon, and directed by Jason Orley (Big Time Adolescence), they cast the leads against type. You have an actor who has perfected his neurotic schtick in Charlie Day, and Jenny Slate, who never met an idler role that is happily stuck in arrested development she hasn’t fallen in love with. Neither is classically good-looking, and their character types are usually reserved for characters tagged in for comic relief.
They play Peter and Emma, two sad sacks whose partners have just dumped them. They meet in a building stairwell, having difficulty controlling their unhappiness at work. At first, they lean on each other so they won’t pathetically contact their exes. That’s until they find out they have already moved on with different people. They hatch a plan to befriend the other’s ex in hopes of swaying them back to their former flames. Peter will take Noah (Scott Eastwood), a personal trainer who is obsessively positive and supportive. Emma will take Anna (Gina Rodriguez) but plans to play for her new boyfriend, Logan ( Manny Jacinto). The desired outcome is that she will go crawling back to Day’s Peter.
What I Want You Back has going for it is it folds in classic rom-com tropes with an excellent sense of modern alternative comedy style and gentle nature. For instance, Day’s Peter has always dreamed of opening up nursing that respects older adults as people. There is a scene where Emma is smitten with him as he helps a grandmother type with a walker carry her tray of food to a nearby table. He even commented that he gave her a good view of the older gentleman for some eye candy. On the other side, Peter finds himself in an absurd situation involving, like the one with Peter Davidson, drugs, alcohol, and unusually welcoming women as they do second-floor cannonballs into a small-sized jacuzzi.
There are obvious flaws. While there appeared to be a chance the film wouldn’t end exactly as you think it will, it does. Why do filmmakers lack the guts for “life to go”? Or at least something fresh, like Peter and Emma end up with the exes new steady? Also, while this is a comedy, Slater’s Emma’s school subplot is eye-brow raising. What school allows a stranger to come in without a pass and unrestricted access? She also befriends an adolescent, giving the boy a ride home without notifying anyone at the school. Later, she even gives him her phone number to text her. Innocent or not, comedy or not, this is inappropriate. Worse, the filmmakers do not seem to be aware of it.
The story does work to spark a romance between two different personality types. Slate’s Emma is, as we said above, stuck in a loop of arrested development that she cannot break. This is possibly due to the passing of her father in college. Why else would she stay in the same apartment for ten years and cycle in young, college roommates for a decade? And you have Peter, who is cautious, doesn’t take risks, and makes the safe choice. Yes, they may complement each other. However, the filmmakers want you to see that type of partner that they can be and view a potential match they can come to appreciate.
While Orley’s film does have its flaws, it’s more sincere and down to earth than its rival film coming out this weekend, Marry Me. (There is a romantic comedy without a single laugh and plays like a giant product placement for Lopez’s next album). Mainly due to the performances of the leads (and a scene-stealing Jacinto), against typecasting, and enough laughs to make it all worth it, I Want You Back earns a mild recommendation. Even if it plays things a bit too safe.