With Kristen Bell, Odette Yustman. Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver, Betty White. Directed by Andy Fickman. Rated PG for brief mild language and rude behavior. 105 minutes.
YOU AGAIN is likely to get very mixed reviews, but the critics who don’t like it were probably in that minority who breezed through high school with nary an emotional bump. For those of us who can relate to Frank Zappa’s observation that “high school isn’t a place, it’s a state of mind,” this is a comedy that recognizes that the wounds inflicted during adolescence run deep and never fully heal. Indeed, in this age of Facebook, it doesn’t take very much to dredge up all sorts of memories one might have thought were safely buried.
Twenty-something Marni (Kristen Bell) is a successful public relations executive who has just gotten a big promotion. She’s smart, she’s attractive and she’s heading to New York. First, though, she has to attend her brother’s wedding. Her new sister-in-law turns out to be, of all people, Joanna (Odette Yustman), the one-time head of the cheerleading squad who made Marni’s high school years a living hell. To twist the knife further, Joanna pretends to have no memory of those years and is now so sweet that Marni’s entire family – including the dog – has fallen in love with her.
You might figure out where this is going, but then there’s another twist: Joanna’s only living relative, her Aunt Ramona (Sigourney Weaver), is the one-time high school best friend of Marni’s mother (Jamie Lee Curtis), a friendship that dissolved the night of the senior prom. So now, two generations of women have to work out their teenage angst, at the worst possible time.
The comedy ranges from sharp to stupid. Having a previously unknown ex-fiancée of Joanna’s show up proves quite funny, in a hilarious turn by Kyle Bornheimer. Then there’s there the unnecessary forays into slapstick, such as Jamie Lee Curtis battling a bathroom sink in a scene out of “The Three Stooges.” The filmmakers are dealing with some real emotions here, and they sometimes undercut it by turning it into a cartoon.
When it counts, though, they follow through. You know Marni will get her long-awaited revenge and that it will mean trouble for everyone. Yet when Marni and Joanna confront each other afterwards, it’s no easy kiss-and-make-up. Marni doesn’t back down. Instead she stands up for all the kids who were ever bullied or humiliated in high school and ought not to be expected to shed tears for those who tormented them.
The four female leads handle themselves well, and it’s a pleasure to watch Curtis and Weaver try to one-up each other. Betty White is there as Marni’s grandmother, and if she seems overexposed these days, the film validates her presence with a delicious and unexpected punchline. Victor Garber, as Marni’s dad, gets to play the grownup, but you have to wonder what his character’s high school days were like.
“You Again” takes a lot of stale material – family confusion surrounding a wedding, rivals sabotaging each other – and finds a way to make it fresh by reminding us of that time in our lives when life was intense and it seemed like things would never change. They do, but the scars remain.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.