A refreshingly mature romantic comedy from writers Isaac Aptaker & Elizabeth Berger, I Want You Back stars Charlie Day and Jenny Slate as strangers-turned-friends who help each other in the disappointing love department. Set apart from cookie-cutter “romcoms” from the last two decades, this Valentine’s Day release gets back to basics: characters who form a believable bond like When Harry Met Sally, who have unfulfilled dreams like in While You Were Sleeping and who create a tangled web of sabotage a la My Best Friend’s Wedding. Director Jason Orley and director of photography Brian Burgoyne bring the story to life through wide shots in and around Atlanta, Georgia, creating a delightfully old-fashioned, contemporary classic.
Day and Slate are center stage, finally. The shift is welcome after years of both actors being pigeonholed into zany, wise-cracking supporting roles. Here, they play Peter and Emma, respectively, two thirty-somethings who are both reeling from their unexpected breakups. He wants Anne (Gina Rodriguez) back, she wants Noah (Scott Eastwood) back and, together, they devise their own Parent-Trap plan to make it happen. The film works well not because of the hook, but in spite of it. Contrived plots can be easily slathered with cliches, twinkle lights and twinklier actors and be called a romantic comedy. But This is Us vets Aptaker and Berger go deeper with both the romance and the comedy.
Romance in I Want You Back looks like Peter and Emma laughing at a movie together, eating french fries in an unglamorous diner, talking about their unfulfilled dreams and helping an old woman with her food tray. It’s poignant in its simplicity, surprising in its maturity. And while the script itself is full of funny beats like hot tub jumping and awkward threesomes, Day and Slate elevate the material naturally; both pros at comedy and sincerity in equal measure.
What sets this film and the aforementioned classics apart is the idea that the universe reveals its plan while you’re looking the other way. That trope in the genre can become – and has become – cliched, but when done correctly, it can work like a charm. For the first time in a long time, there’s a romantic comedy that works.
I Want You Back is available exclusively on Prime Video on February 11, 2022.