Bride goeth before the fall
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, September 24, 2010
"You Again" suffers from an increasingly common movie defect: appealing, sharply drawn supporting characters, and a cast of main characters that is as unlikely as it is unlikable. Let's start with the second category.
At the center of this unfunny comedy are two young women. Marni (Kristen Bell) and Joanna (Odette Yustman) are former high school classmates and nemeses who discover, to their mutual chagrin, that years after graduating they once again have something in common: Marni's brother Will (Jimmy Wolk), who's about to marry Joanna. After a brief prologue, told in flashback, where we see cheerleader Joanna tormenting and bullying the pimply, bespectacled Marni, we catch up with them today. Marni, in the intervening years, has discovered contact lenses and Clearasil. Joanna, to all appearances, has simply learned to hide her open cruelty toward others less fabulous than she behind a sickeningly smarmy smile.
The real wonder, however, is Will's cluelessness. Although the three of them all attended the same tiny school at the same time, he somehow managed to graduate without ever knowing about his sister's suffering, or who caused it. Wolk -- who goes through the movie with the dazed look of someone who has been kicked in the head by a horse as a boy -- at least makes his character's imbecility plausible. Yustman plays the villain broadly, with Bell milking her victim persona for all it's worth.
Enter Sigourney Weaver and Jamie Lee Curtis, playing, respectively, Joanna's equally stuck-up Aunt Ramona and Marni's mother, Gail, a neurotically competitive former cheerleader. They, it turns out, also have bad blood dating to high school, where their lifelong friendship went sour after a perceived betrayal. The exact nature of the betrayal -- and the identity of the betrayer -- will not be revealed until late in the film, but by that point, you won't care.
Marni would be the logical person for an audience to empathize with here, except for one small thing. In the film's climactic rehearsal-dinner scene, she proves herself to be just as much of a mean girl as all the others. The fact that she subsequently apologizes and makes nice -- as do Joanna, Ramona and Gail, in a resolution that is as full of baloney as melodrama -- matters not a whit. All four deliver performances of dinner-theater-caliber subtlety.
There are, however, a few small pleasures. Kristin Chenoweth makes a delightfully daffy wedding planner. Betty White is sweetly lascivious as Marni's grandmother. Dwayne Johnson, in a cameo as an air marshal, is a welcome if fleeting presence. And Billy Unger, as Marni's sassy little brother, Ben, gets half of the film's funniest lines.
One of them is delivered to Marni's father (Victor Garber), who's trying to lose weight before the wedding by following a fad diet that requires him -- incongruously, but not especially cleverly -- to eat every meal with his eyes covered.
"Dad," the kid says, in a plea that could well echo your own sentiments, "can I please borrow your blindfold?"
Contains rude language and unpleasant behavior.