‘Films roll out like potatoes…’ is one of my favourites from the many comments posted on this blog during the pandemic; hype and expectation have been on the back burner for a while. Stumbling on a simple rom-com like I Want You Back, languishing as a Prime premiere last week, I noted that it was barely a blip on my radar; sure, Charlie Day and Jenny Slate are good comic players, but there’s usually an issue with anything that just rolls out on streaming, right?
Jason Orley’s sweet, occasionally brittle rom-com has an ancient premise. A man and a woman get together after being dumped by their respective lovers; they hatch a plot to win their true loves back, but in the process, fall for each other. In another era, this would be Doris Day, but in 2022 it’s Charlie Day from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia; he’s been hoaching in some big releases (Pacific Rim: Uprising, anyone?), but turns out to be a comfortable leading man as Peter. Jenny Slate also endured a painful failure to launch in Venom, but can handle a gag and a tune as Emma, with a surprising rendition of Suddenly Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors an unexpected breakout moment here. The support always matters, but the plot structure gives equal weighting to the exes, and Gina Rodriguez and Scott Eastwood both gives their characters a little more than might be expected.
Not everything plays A grade here. There’s a ridiculous aircraft-seating plot-contrivance that brings our happy ending; even the referencing of Con Air doesn’t make this credible in the least. And it makes zero sense that Peter is out nightclubbing while Emma is at a school-play-rehearsal; am I missing something here, or do these things usually happen at different times of day? At least the clubbing antics mean we get a Pete Davidson cameo and some authentic stoner chat ‘I can smell the moon,’ Peter intones, while Eastwood makes something surreal of his ‘This sofa is everything…’ trip-out. There are funny lines here, even if the plot has to bend over backwards to accomodate them.
Such side-issues aside, the emotional core of I Want You Back still holds; the more we see of Peter and Emma together, the more that we realise that they’re the best option for a potential hang/chill and maybe more. A bit more polish might have made a classic, but I Want You Back is far better than your average streaming simulation of a movie, with a game cast exerting a feel-good yet caustic story, and Day and Slate make a good enough team to engage us.