Few people who see "You Again" are going to accuse it of being a new masterpiece of cinema, but the terrific cast and buoyant direction by Andy Fickman (2009's "Race to Witch Mountain
") sure make it entertaining. A comedy about the lasting scars left from a bad high school experience and the struggle to overcome one's hang-ups about the past, the film's themes ring true even as the proceedings flirt with disaster on more than one occasion as the tone rapidly shifts back and forth from physical slapstick to dramatic heart-to-hearts. A little less of both and a nice middle ground might have turned a good movie into something more. Still, there's never a dull moment as the colorful characters and game actors go through the paces of a story that appreciably shades each major player with enough layers that they all come off as sympathetic by the end.
Marni Olsen's (Kristen Bell) teenage years were hell, and it was all thanks to popular chearleading mean girl J.J. (Odette Yustman). Eight years later, LA-based PR rep Marni has long since overcome her awkward phase, receiving news on the eve of returning home for big brother Will's (Jimmy Wolk) wedding that she is being promoted to V.P. at her job's New York firm. With every up there is a down, and Marni's comes when she learns Will's bride-to-be is none other than J.J. (she now goes by Joanna, hence the delayed discovery). Joanna acts like she doesn't remember her, but Marni suspects otherwise and fears her brother might be making a terrible mistake. As luck would have it, Marni's mom Gail (Jamie Lee Curtis) is about to get her own blast from the past when she comes to find that Joanna's Aunt Ramona (Sigourney Weaver), now a jet-setting hotel magnate, was her own high school adversary.
"You Again" touches upon subjects that most viewers will be able to relate to in one form or another, though many will also recognize that Marni's conflicts probably would be solved a whole lot sooner if the script (credited to Moe Jelline) were just a little smarter. Sure, she could open her mouth and say things to her brother, to her mom, to J.J. that would likely solve things a lot quicker, but then there wouldn't be a feature film. Overlooking this contrivance, "You Again" is certainly a pleasant way to spend 105 minutes and sometimes outright comedically inspired. A sequence where everyone goes to a dance class taught by wedding planner extraordinaire Georgia King (Kristin Chenoweth) and Marni's Grandma Bunny (Betty White) ends up flying across the dance floor on a sheet swing is almost impossible not to laugh it. Another scene where Gail visits Ramona at her luxurious hotel room, excuses herself to the restroom and, through a series of mishaps, gets soaking wet, is hilarious because of how outrageously uncomfortable such a situation might be. The sight of Gail exiting the bathroom drenched from head to toe is one of the single funniest movie moments of the year.
An always-welcome Kristen Bell (2010's "When in Rome
") capably leads the ensemble as central protagonist Marni. Bell is eclectic in her ability to play grounded, believable characters while navigating between humor and pathos. Here she also gets the chance to play two versions of the same characterthe vulnerable high school-aged Marni and the more confident adult she becomes. While the character is one to follow and like, the script does call for her to do some morally questionable things that raise eyebrows in her attempt to "out" Joanna's true self. Fortunately, since part of the picture's message is that we all make mistakes and what's important is what we do to right them, Marni does see the error of her ways by the end. As Joanna, Odette Yustman (2009's "The Unborn
") has possibly the film's trickiest part; she has to be catty enough to believe the person she was back in high school, but also changed for the better enough to care about her in her own right.
As matronly counterparts Gail and Ramona, Jamie Lee Curtis (2008's "Beverly Hills Chihuahua
") and Sigourney Weaver (2009's "Avatar
") are deliciously fun together. For Curtis, it's a return to form after several bad movies (let's all try to forget 2004's misbegotten "Christmas with the Kranks
"); she hasn't had this juicy of a comic role since 2003's "Freaky Friday
." For Weaver, it's just great to see her in something less serious than she's accustomed to; from 1984's "Ghostbusters" to 2001's "Heartbreakers
" to 2008's "Baby Mama
" to a recent hosting gig on "Saturday Night Live," she's always had a special underrated flair for comedy. Besides all that, for genre fans, the chance to see Laurie Strode and Ellen Ripley join forces is pretty irresistible. In supporting turns, Kristin Chenoweth (2008's "Four Christmases
") stands out in a role that feels tailor-made for herthat of over-the-top, southern-fried wedding planner Georgia Kingand Betty White (2009's "The Proposal
") typically classes things up further as barb-slinging Grandma Bunny.
The third act of "You Again," culminating in multiple cat fights and make-up sessions, feels a bit convoluted with at least one, maybe two too many apologies. Director Andy Fickman also is guilty of falling back on female clichés at times, with lots of squealing and the old stand-by of pigging out while depressed. The charismatic actors, as expected, handle it all with go-getter aplomb, and the film's positive attributes far outweigh the negative. The story progression leading up to the wedding between Will and Joanna hums along with energy, the soundtrack is solid (there's a rejuvenating recurring use of Queen's "We Are the Champions," not to mention a special appearance from Hall & Oates), and there is a certain resolute wisdom in the movie's recognition that things aren't always black and white when it comes to a person's true colors and their interpersonal relationships. Frothy and crowd-pleasing, "You Again" concludes, as all such movies do, with a cast sing-along during the end credits. Most of the time it feels forced, but not here. The clearly great time being had by all as they take to the stage is infectious.