Directed by: Jason Orley
Premise: Peter and Emma (Charlie Day and Jenny Slate) are dumped by their respective girlfriend and boyfriend. The two of them bond over their mutual heartache and make a plan to win back their exes.
What Works: I Want You Back is a romantic comedy with an interesting hook. Peter and Emma each go through simultaneous break ups but neither of them are willing to let go of their ex. Peter and Emma agree to befriend each other’s previous significant other with the goal of breaking up their ex’s new relationships. This is a horrible thing to do but I Want You Back generally makes the conceit credible and complex. Peter befriends Noah (Scott Eastwood) and leads him into some ethically squishy situations. But the two men genuinely bond and Peter is moved by Noah’s commitment to his new girlfriend. Emma insinuates herself into Anne’s (Gina Rodriguez) life and dangles herself in front of Anne’s new boyfriend (Manny Jacinto). Despite the outrageous setup, the characters are believable because they are complicated. Peter and Emma are doing terrible things but no one in I Want You Back is a villain. The characters struggle to figure out what they want out of life and the filmmakers and the actors deal with that earnestly. The cast is quite good, especially Charlie Day and Jenny Slate as Peter and Emma. They make a likable on-screen couple and they have great comic timing. But Scott Eastwood and Gina Rodriguez are also quite good, in part because they are allowed to be more than the ex-boyfriend and girlfriend. As Anne, Rodriguez in particular is allowed to figure out the difference between what she thought she wanted and who she actually is and the film has small poignant moments that elevate I Want You Back above the average romantic comedy.
What Doesn’t: I Want You Back is a romantic comedy and it fits firmly within that genre. From the “meet cute” in which Peter and Emma encounter each other in a stairwell, it’s obvious where this story is going. Peter and Emma will inevitably fall in love and we wait for them to realize their mutual affection. The moviemakers do the formula well and with good humor but genre conventions become a problem in the ending. When Peter and Emma reach their inexorable relationship crisis, Peter’s abandonment of Emma is so cold that their reconciliation becomes hard to believe. I Want You Back strains to give its characters a happy ending that conforms to the romantic comedy genre and the conclusion is never quite convincing.
DVD extras: On Amazon Prime.
Bottom Line: I Want You Back is a likable romantic comedy with a little more depth than we usually get from this genre. The movie falters when it’s forced to adhere to storytelling conventions but I Want You Back is uplifted by the comedy and the characters.
Episode: #892 (February 27, 2022)