Saturday, March 16, 2013

Romy & Michele's High School Reunion - 1997

"Romy & Michele's High School Reunion" - 1997
Dir. by David Mirkin - 1 hr. 32 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

Here we have the other high school reunion movie from 1997, "Romy & Michele's High School Reunion."  While "Grosse Pointe Blank" was a sly, aggressive, cool comedic take on the whole situation, "Romy" is the bonkers little sister of this family.  It's colorful, fun, a little flighty, and just wants people to like her (and to have some fun, as well).  And the journey of the main characters of this film has them learning that they have to learn to appreciate themselves first, and then other people will fall in line.

Romy (Mira Sorvino) and Michele (Lisa Kudrow) are in their twenties, have moved to Los Angeles from the desert, and enjoy clubbing.  You might say it's their natural habitat.  When Romy meets a surly former classmate, Heather (Janeane Garofalo) at her customer service job at a Jaguar dealership, she finds out that their ten-year reunion is imminent.  This sets off a self-improvement plan: diet, new boyfriends, better jobs.  And when that fails, they decided to pretend they're successful instead, claiming to have invented Post-Its, all in service of trying to woo the boys they had crushes on back in high school.

"Romy & Michele" is such a bizarre film, for about a million different reasons.  I guess it's a testament to the power of "Friends" in the 90's that a comedy got made then that starred two (well, three) women, and didn't really have any male actors that were names at that point (Alan Cumming and Justin Theroux have roles here, but that didn't mean much in 1997).  I'm not saying it's right, I'm saying that even a decade plus later, it's still a rarity.  But even more than that, what we've got here is a 1980's film made in the 1990's, and it's not really an exercise in nostalgia.  In a fairly drably-colored decade, this is a cotton-candy colored confection, filled with bubbly, light-hearted charm from the leads.  This is offset by some degree by the single best use of Janeane Garofalo in her film career, as a very grumpy lady.  She's described late in the film by Michele as "a big giant girl who smokes and says 'shit' a lot," which is a pretty perky way of putting it.

But even more than that, this is one of those films that exists in it's own bubble.  The quickest comparison I can come up with is "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure," where the two lead characters' most important relationship is their friendship with each other, and their mutual ignorance of the weirdness of their surroundings somehow multiplies the weirdness itself.  But there's also an odd internal logic that works, even if the film seems all over the place.  There's a long dream sequence in the middle, a staple of these kinds of films, but it also serves to illustrate the point that even if both Romy and Michele end up with the men of their dreams, if they can't also remain friends, it's not worth the sacrifice.  In that respect, it very well represents the logic of early teenage girls, where friendships are intense and can go straight to hell once boys start to factor in (which is also sort of the Bill & Ted dynamic, observed from the other gender).

And this is a riotously funny movie, as well.  Even though Romy and Michele aren't very bright (or at least are amazingly superficial, but not in a malicious way), they are likable and not easily discouraged.  Everyone can understand their motivations and weaknesses; they want people to like them and think well of them, but they're completely befuddled by typical teenage pettiness and social-standing jockeying, which doesn't seem to cease even when people are out of their teens).  So when they decide that they need better jobs and some boyfriends in time for the reunion, them divvying up the duties makes sense to them.  Of course they need to show up in a better car than the Nova they normally drive (which leads to possibly the best exchange of dialogue in the film, where Romy jokingly tells Michele that she gave handjobs to the entire Jaguar service crew in exchange for the car, which Michele takes at face value, much to Romy's consternation), of course they decided to pretend to be businesswomen (although they don't actually know what they're supposed to be pretending to do, as illustrated by a great quick scene in a diner on the way to the reunion).  They're not con-men here, they're just trying to escape getting crushed by the A-list girls when they have to explain what they've been up to for the last ten years.

Both Sorvino and Kudrow are really good here, and this is my favorite role for Janeane Garofalo.  She's abrasive, but comically so, and it is set off by Sorvino and Kudrow's perkiness.  There's no end of great exchanges throughout the film; you could talk about the the dream sequence, the actual reunion, Michele going through job interviews and ending up at an outlet mall, or maybe the three-person dance set to Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time."  But there's a bit near the end that's almost as messed up as the all-time most messed-up moment of happiness in "Bad Santa."  Garofalo's character is bemoaning the fact that everyone made her miserable throughout high school, and that she never had the opportunity to make anyone else miserable, and that doesn't seem fair.  When she finds out that her constant, casual curse-filled telling off of Toby (Camryn Manheim) actually hurt her feelings, Heather is ecstatic, and her entire high school existence is redeemed.

"Romy & Michele's High School Reunion" is a bizarre, funny, awesome, strange movie.  The fact that it's tone and visual approach was so out of left-field contemporarily works in it's favor: those quirks that date a film (particularly comedies, where the visual approach is sometimes delivered on auto-pilot) are much less noticeable.  It's got a good concept, great execution, and the actresses that hold up most of the screen time really deliver.  They're all super-committed to what they're doing, and that holds up over time.  I remember enjoying this film from before, and actually might have liked it more this time around than the last time I watched it years ago.

3.5 / 5 - TV

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