I Want You Back Wants Classic Rom-Coms Back
If you want a return to the predictable-yet-surprising, comfortable but evolving, funny but heartfelt films of the 90s…you know what, I’ll just say it. If you want rom-coms back, look no further than I Want You Back.
Written by Isaac Aptaker & Elizabeth Berger – a partnership that mirrors the structure of a film that ping-pongs between the adventures of Peter (Charlie Day) and Emma (Jenny Slate), each trying to break-up the new relationship of the other’s ex – I Want You Back would rather find its own comfortable niche within the rom-com genre than elevate it. And that’s to its credit. Brimming with softball witticisms and the type of earnest heart that’s becoming surprisingly en vogue in this era of rampant internet cynicism, Jason Orley’s film is best enjoyed with a glass of wine and a cozy seat.
Peter and Emma have been dumped. After running into each other at their shared work building, they hatch a plot to break their exes up: Emma will move in on the hot new hunk that Peter’s ex is dating; Peter will befriend Emma’s ex and convince him to return to her. I Want You Back knows exactly how to use its plot, setting up the complicated mechanics in the opening five minutes, and then using the next 106 to create increasingly absurd and funny situations from that single set-up.
Much of the film rests on Day and Slate – both their chemistry and their ability to bring the humor when apart and surrounded by straight men characters. The two transition ably from their go-to chaotic comedic energy into something deeper, and the film around them fills out with a wealth of relationships unique to the typical rom-com. Peter’s relationship with Emma’s ex Noah, played by a wonderfully wide-open Scott Eastwood, takes several surprising turns, both narratively and emotionally. Meanwhile Emma finds herself in an unexpected love triangle with Peter’s ex, Anne (Gina Rodriguez), and her new theater-loving beau Logan (Manny Jacinto). I Want You Back invests each of its satellite characters with enough honest backstory and depth that even the small scenes – the ones played mostly for laughs or to move the plot along – resonate more than expected.
I Want You Back’s strengths are also its weaknesses – namely the lack of anything new. The film pulls from some of its most hallowed predecessors, mixing and matching the greatest hits of rom-coms past into a comforting new quilt. But every part of that quilt has been seen before, leaving you with little to grab on to in the days and weeks after viewing. It’s an enjoyable entry, but ultimately a somewhat forgettable one.