I Want You Back review: A pleasant, serviceable rom-com that’s low on laughs
I Want You Back review: The rom-com works better as a moving-on film more than a love story, partly due to Charlie Day and Jenny Slate’s largely platonic chemistry.
Amazon Prime Video’s new Valentine's Day-timed rom-com I Want You Back works best when it’s about nothing - when it focuses on the journey of its characters alone, over the destination of its predictable plot.
Written by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger (This Is Us, How I Met Your Mother) and directed by Jason Orley, the premise is simple. Peter (the always endearing Charlie Day) and Emma (Obvious Child’s Jenny Slate) both just got dumped by their respective partners. Both heartbroken and pining for their exes, while ugly crying at the office, the two bump into each other in the office building they both work in, and forge an unlikely connection. One broken heart recognises another.
What begins as two shattered people seeking solace and comfort in each other’s company (or as they call themselves, the ‘sadness sisters’), quickly escalates into them devising a plan to break up their respective exes, who have both moved onto sexier partners. It's a grand plan fit for a fun rom-com. But of course, in the process of supporting each other in their odd endeavour, Peter and Emma gradually develop their own budding situationship.
On the grand rom-com spectrum of heart (The Half Of It, Definitely Maybe, 500 Days Of Summer, About Time) to humour (The Proposal, most things Adam Sandler), I Want You Back is clearly looking for laughs. But it rarely delivers. Right from the opening scene (which cuts between the two getting dumped - Emma over breakfast, Peter at a children’s birthday party), we get a steady stream of funny situations full of untapped comedic potential. The movie keeps offering up new promising setups, but the punchlines rarely come.
But once you make your peace with its benign, harmless pleasantness, it's a film that grows on you. There’s a sincerity and care with which it approaches its characters that I couldn’t shake off. I Want You Back works better as a moving-on film more than a love story between Peter and Emma, partly due to Charlie Day and Jenny Slate’s largely platonic chemistry. Peter and Emma’s individual journeys of healing and self-acceptance have far more impact and honesty than the predictable plot’s need to force them together in the end. The most touching love story on offer here, then, isn’t the one they share with each other, but with themselves.
Luckily the lion’s share of the film allows for just that, two unlikely friends serving as each other’s emotional crutches, helping each other heal and see themselves again. To help each other recognise that they’re so blinded by wanting to be loved by who they believe is their person, that they've lost sight of themselves as people. Their breakups were never the cause of the rut they now find themselves in, but merely a consequence.
Elsewhere, the sparkling supporting characters, which includes Gina Rodriguez and The Good Place’s charming Manny Jacinto, bring a much-needed dose of energy to the proceedings. As Emma’s kind-hearted personal trainer ex Noah, a gentle Scott Eastwood in particular, adds a great deal to the film’s beating heart. Not to mention a series of fun cameos from the likes of Ben McKenzie and the inimitable Pete Davidson.
In the end, at a time of a severe drought of love on screen, we deserve more rom-coms. And I Want You Back does, for the most part, hit the spot as the rare romantic comedy, in which getting together in the end isn't the real happy ending - getting dumped and rediscovering yourself is. A simple, pleasant journey of two people gradually realising that ‘I want you back’ isn't something they need to tell their exes, but themselves.
Film: I Want You Back
Director: Jason Orley
Cast: Charlie Day, Jenny Slate