Thursday, September 23, 2010

Review: "You Again"

I love the cast of "You Again." And I enjoyed the slapsticky humor, of which there is plenty. Pretty much everything else about this new Disney comedy is take it or leave it, though.

It's nice to see a movie that's not based on a book, comic strip, video game or another movie -- it was simply dreamed up out of screenwriter Moe Jelline's head, his first feature film. And if elements of the film seem familiar -- some have already dismissed it as "Mean Girls" for an older audience -- then at least the winning cast carries the material through the dry spots.

Kristen Bell plays Marni, a high-school ugly duckling who got her swan on in her 20s. Now a successful public relations executive, Marni uses the story of her loser days to inspire some eager new interns: 'Believe in yourself, face your problems, and you too can blah blah blah blah...'

Disaster strikes when Marni realizes the woman her big brother, Will (James Wolk), is marrying is none other then Joanna (Odette Yustman), the girl who tormented her back at Ridgefield High. Joanna was captain of the cheerleading squad, and ruled the school with a bitchy fist.

These flashback scenes are a hoot, due in large part to the convincing physical transformation of button-cute Bell into a nerd with droopy bangs, a face full of brace, and skin erupting with a bounty of zits. It's ironic that high-school movies often cast actresses the age of Yustman and Bell as 17-year-olds, and now we see how they get away with it.

Joanna acts as if she doesn't even remember Marni, and proceeds to subtly make her feel like dirt all over again. Marni, though, is determined to extract an apology for the many wrongs done her. If she doesn't get it, she's prepared to extract her revenge by sending the marriage down in flames.

This set-up would be sufficient for most comedies, but Jelline doubles down by replicating the dilemma one generation upward. Turns out Marni's mom Gail (Jamie Lee Curtis, in a hoot of a performance) had a very similar experience in her school days with Ramona (Sigourney Weaver), who is revealed as Joanna's aunt.

Now a fabulously wealthy hotel magnate, Ramona doesn't miss an opportunity to rub her success in Gail's face. Gail responds in kind, showing off some cheerleading moves and participating in an impromptu (and solo) drag race.

"High school was a horror movie. This weekend is the sequel," Marni laments.

Director Andy Fickman is an auteur of bland, family-friendly flicks -- "The Game Plan," "Race to Witch Mountain" -- and his ham-handedness is evident whenever the movie slows down for serious moments. Whenever the physical humor is front and center, though, it's an enjoyable romp.

The supporting cast is charming, top to bottom. Victor Garber plays Gail's pleasantly put-upon father, and Betty White pops up as Grandma Bunny, an octogenarian with a lusty streak. (Although, doesn't that describe all of White's TV and movie gags lately?)

Kristin Chenoweth plays Georgia, an impossibly spunky celebrity wedding planner, Billy Unger is Marni's wisecracking kid brother, and Sean Wing turns up as an old would-be flame of Marni's from school.

I especially liked Kyle Bornheimer as Tim, an old boyfriend of Joanna's who Marni invites to the wedding rehearsal to stir up the pot. Turns out Tim has some deeper-seated issues, which Bornheimer hilariously lets bubble to the surface.

No one is going to confuse "You Again" with great filmmaking. But if you can stand the slow stretches, you'll find an agreeably entertaining family-friendly comedy with a little bit of bite.

2.5 stars out of four

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