'I Want You Back' review: Scheme a little scheme, with glee
Schemes! That's what is missing from modern dating. Not even remotely enough schemes.
Somewhere between "The Importance of Being Earnest" and "The Italian Job" lies the new rom-com "I Want You Back." Directed by Jason Orley (of "Big Time Adolescence"), the delightfully by-the-book flick is out just in time for Valentine's Day, streaming Feb. 11 on Amazon Prime Video. And while Orley did follow that book's instructions for living, laughing and loving to the cinematic letter, "I Want You Back" is smarter than some of its cousins by half.
Peter (sweet and squirrely Charlie Day of "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia") means well and loves big, but his ambitious girlfriend Anne (Gina Rodriguez of "Jane the Virgin," laced up tighter than a Nike) wants more than safety in her love life.
Emma (Jenny Slate, of many razor-sharp comedic turns and sorta Muppet-like charisma) thinks things are going well with her beau Noah (Scott Eastwood, bringing a fistful of golden retriever energy). He, however, disagrees.
Two breakups happen. Peter and Emma meet each other on a high staircase and at their mutual low points. A plan is concocted — a relationship heist, really, as the pair team up to steal back their exes' love through social media subterfuge and undercover sabotage.
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Now, you know that won't work. I know that won't work. Decades of slapstick Hollywood comedies and a few centuries of theater know that won't work. But gosh, it's still fun to watch, isn't it?
"I Want You Back" is like many genre flicks that way; half of the fun is watching new people create their own echo of a familiar story. (Not to get too high-falutin' about a rom-com.) Here, it's two of the funniest folks working today, Day and Slate, working with a sweet, witty script that is just here for a good time.
Day's disheveled good nature — his resolute aversion to Noah's cheery gym-based sadism is a great bit — and Slate's zany undercover commitment really elevate the material. In fact, Slate's high points very nearly help "I Want You Back" transcend its comfort-food qualities. Of the pair's respective schemes, her daffy mission deep into the lair of a grade-school drama club, where Anne's new boyfriend (a fun Manny Jacinto) teaches, could have carried its own movie.
And when I tell you that Slate's blonde-wigged performance of "Suddenly Seymour" from "Little Shop of Horrors" is an honest-to-Audrey tearjerker? Jenny Slate Oscar nomination when?
Suspend your disbelief; the plot's outlandish. Don't try to examine the tropes too carefully; no spoilers, but what you think is going to happen by the end probably happens. Scheme a little scheme. "I Want You Back" might be a standard, but it's a great rendition.
'I Want You Back'
Starring: Jenny Slate, Charlie Day, Scott Eastwood, Manny Jacinto, Clark Backo, Gina Rodriguez
Director: Jason Orley
Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes
Watch: Streaming on Amazon Prime Video