If Mean Girls shows that high school bullies eventually see the error of their ways, You Again shows that they unsee them upon graduation and that a woman’s habits are with her to the end. This may be true for some of us and it’s not a very uplifting thought, but then again, this isn’t a very uplifting movie. With its attempt at humor and sentimentality, the film fails as a comedy and as a meaningful reflection on change and redemption.
Three generations of women are bound by their natural inclination towards bitchiness. Marni (Kristen Bell), the youngest, leaves high school with gaping emotional wounds. We first see her during the filming of a video time capsule, cornered as JJ (Odette Yustman) leads a savage band of popular kids to torment her. In a Blair Witch-style confessional, she gives a trembling account of their abuse. The pimply, bespectacled braceface gets the last laugh though, transforming, as all high school dorks do, into the fresh, plucky vice president of a major PR office not more than a decade later.
Just as Marni’s tucked away the past, her mother Gail (Jamie Lee Curtis) phones with news of her brother’s (James Wolk) engagement, and his fiancée is none other than her old nemesis. Now going by Joanna, the former bully has turned Mother Teresa, overflowing with sweetness and compassion for the underprivileged. But what is more shocking to Marni is that Joanna seems to have no recollection of her. Nor does anyone else in her supposedly tight knit family recall the person who treated her so cruelly.
Much of the plot hinges on this incredulous detail, which, if you’ve lived in a town as small as this one purports to be, is pretty far-fetched. Marni suspects that JJ’s still lurking behind Joanna’s candy coated smiles and plays a desperate game of “is she or isn’t she” before the wedding goes ahead in a couple days. Gail thinks her daughter’s overreacting, until Joanna’s aunt Ramona (Sigourney Weaver) shows up and dregs up bad memories from her own high school days. Ramona’s professional and financial success only enrages Gail further. The two engage in some passive aggressive, and some outright aggressive, behavior as they variously try to reconcile and take revenge for the past.
There are no fresh ideas here, and most of the laughs depend on clichés recycled from reunion and wedding movies – embarrassing videos, food fights, people getting thrown into pools. Even Betty White reappears as a caustic version of every other role she’s done lately. While the main cast do more than phone in their parts, they don’t go out of their way to make their characters very memorable.
It’s a tough task though as, despite what Frozen’s Elsa advises, these women just can’t let this shit go. Everyone is at one point bully or bullied, with no one taking the grown up stance of moving on or at least approaching the situation without flinging invective, or porcelain, at one another. The only way they can heal is to have a complete meltdown. There’s something to be said about the lasting and harmful effects about bullying, and Bell handles a moving scene in which Marni confronts Joanna. But this doesn’t sit well in a movie where even grandma squirms in rage over being wronged by another woman fifty years ago. Like mother, like daughter might seem like a joke but it strikes me as condescending. We can be grateful that You Again underperformed or else audiences would be hit with a sequel about Marni’s daughter trying to make it through high school hell.
Prod: Andy Fickman, John J. Strauss, Eric Tannenbaum
Dir: Andy Fickman
Writer: Moe Jelline
Cast: Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver, Odette Yustman, Billy Unger, Kristin Chenoweth, Victor Garber, James Wolk, Betty White, Sean Wing, Cloris Leachman, Patrick Duffy
Time: 105 min
Country: United States