I don’t anticipate this post being spectacularly long. In general, there isn’t much to say and this didn’t harbor a lot in my eyes as worth noting. We’ll see what happens.
As a bit of personal context, romantic comedies were a preference of mine way back when. I like to laugh and I like to experience the floaty, fluffy niceties that come with love. Unfortunately, both of those things do not come naturally to me. It comes with being deeply cynical. For the twelfth day of March, I decided completely on a whim to go back to those days where I would watch endless amounts of safe romantic comedies. Well, “safe” is more of a buffer; they were generally very raunchy.
“Newly dumped thirty-somethings Peter and Emma team up to sabotage their exes’ new relationships and win them back for good.” – IMDb
Romantic comedies, as stated, were something of a safe haven for me as a teenager. Laughing is great medicine for me, and I’m quite fond of being described as “funny”; perhaps I simply wished to study how to be. As for romance… that’s a trickier history.
I can empathize with these characters onscreen, yearning for someone with whom they can share themselves with on a similar level of vulnerability. Yet for someone who has always clamored for love and affection, nowadays it’s been less of a priority. (Maybe that’s why I’ve consumed far fewer romantic comedies?) Doesn’t necessarily make works of fiction that involve such passion at their core less relatable, only that my motive for consumption is less… self-indulgent, I suppose.
Anyway, let’s talk about why I Want You Back isn’t totally terrible.
What a Cute Cast of Characters
Turning back time to a point where I enjoyed these types of films was one thing, another was in its central cast. Jenny Slate, whom I always thought was cute but never sought after, and Charlie Day in a rom-com together. That’s… an odd pair. Even more odd is Charlie Day and Gina Rodriguez, which my sister regarded as “Really weird.” To me, though, all weirdness goes to Charlie Day even being in this.
Said weirdness is not an insult, by the way. I love that Charlie Day is embracing a more grounded, outside-the-usual role. Kind of like John C Reilly as the emotional lead in The Sisters Brothers. Seeing him in this, as a sort of everyday guy who cracks jokes and what-not, was refreshing to see him pull off. I thought he did a decent enough job with the material provided.
Slate seems a little more comfortable here. Given her past history in films, it would make sense that she seems more… believable(?) as the spirited but aimless girl who’s kind of stuck in life. She was the star of I Want You Back to me, with writing—and an impromptu performance in the middle to showcase her singing ability—to make her a more likable, rounded character.
Usually with these rom-coms, there’s a character I end up despising whether because they’re lazy comic-relief or just there to be there. While I didn’t like every character equally, no character ended up having me dread an oncoming scene. Gina Rodriguez and Scott Eastwood were both all right in their respective, lesser roles as “the ones that got away.” I felt Rodriguez got a little more development, though both were almost strictly within the realm of “My character is a plot device.”
Within the Machine
So yes, I enjoyed the characters—this is very important for a romantic comedy. What else did I like? Uhh… not much.
Let me rephrase that in a more positive light: There’s not much about this film that evokes strong emotions. Okay, that doesn’t sound great, either, yet it’s the truth. I Want You Back is a story that is bound to trap itself in the formulas set by many rom-coms before it. Based on the synopsis alone, you know how it’s going to end. You know from the history of the genre itself about the hijinks these characters will end up in. This isn’t going to do anything that others within the genre haven’t already done.
Unlike yesterday’s film, where I argued that the formula (somewhat) serviced its execution, no similar creativity is afforded here. All it can really say is that its characters are likable, its story sound, and its structure solid. A perfectly acceptable, perfectly comforting film with all the things one can expect from the outset. It’s like settling, because you can’t really find anything better. Not necessarily the worst, just not the best.
I would also comment on both the comedy and the romance, given this is a rom-com, only I’ve come to accept that I’m not really the best person to gauge either (especially comedy). My sense of humor is a little odd with a spice of darkness. One throwaway line said by Rodriguez (she, surprisingly, had some of my favorite quips) where she states, “Yes, let’s have sex to celebrate a bunch of middle schoolers,” made me smirk. Otherwise, I was stone-faced throughout.
On the bright side, nothing about this made me cringe. Except the ending. Kind of. That’s spoiler-y, so I won’t discuss it. Nevertheless, an amusing experience, even if not terribly (or at all) funny.
I ended up talking about this more than I thought, so that’s neat. I Want You Back is fine. If you have a more sensitive funny bone than I do (you very likely do), this would probably be more entertaining a watch. Characters are decently well-rounded and enjoyable to see interact; however, not much about the events or its foundation satiates the craving for a deeply satisfying romance. Though people generally fond of the genre will likely enjoy this, regardless.
Final Score: 5.5/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!
Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.