As your average romantic comedy, “I Want You Back”, which is currently available on Amazon Prime, has some comic substance and chemistry, but it does not have much surprise for us. Yes, it is already expected right from the very beginning that its two different lead characters will eventually come to realize that they actually love each other, and the movie generates some good laughs from how oblivious they are to that undeniable fact till the last act, but that is not enough for compensating for its several glaring flaws including its rather deficient comic momentum.
During the first act, the movie quickly establishes its two lead characters’ respective miserable private situations. When Emma (Jenny Slate) is having a lunch with her gym trainer boyfriend Noah (Scott Eastwood), Noah suddenly announces that he is going to leave Emma because she does not feel like the one with whom he can live for the rest of his life, and Emma is understandably depressed to hear that. When Peter (Charlie Day) is attending the birthday party of the son of one of his close friends, his schoolteacher girlfriend Anne (Gina Rodriguez) unexpectedly reveals that she is going to leave him because she sees no future between them, and Peter is naturally devastated by that.
Incidentally, Peter and Emma work in the same building, and they come across each other by coincidence while they are struggling with their painful feelings in private. As they share more of how much they feel hurt by their respective hurtful breakups, they come to lean on each other more, and then they find themselves checking together what Anne and Noah are respectively doing at present via social media application.
After discovering that Anne and Noah are already moving onto another romantic partner in their respective private lives, Peter and Emma come to concoct a rather selfish plan to benefit both of them. While Peter is going to disrupt the relationship between Noah and his new girlfriend, Emma is going to do the same thing to Anne and her new boyfriend, and they hope that their plan will be succeeded enough for them to get back their respective ex-partners.
On the surface, their respective missions seem to be pretty easy. All Peter has to do is becoming a new physical training client for Noah, and he soon becomes quite close to Noah as he exercises more under Noah’s guidance. In case of Emma, she simply approaches to both Anne and her new boyfriend when they are preparing together for a musical performance in Anne’s elementary school, and it does not take much time for Emma to draw the attention of Anne’s new boyfriend as pretending that she is quite interested in stage acting.
I must point out that the story is basically a variation of “Addicted to Love” (1997), another romantic comedy film about a duo working together for getting their respective ex-partners back by any means necessary. Peter and Emma thankfully do not reach to the utter nastiness of that romantic comedy film, but, unfortunately, many comic moments generated from their inherently nasty plans do not have much edginess. For instance, a scene involved with several young girls with whom Peter and Noah happen to be associated at one point is unfolded in a very predictable fashion without enough surprise to draw chuckles from us, and the same thing can be said about an absurd scene where Emma suggests something sexually bold for Anne and her boyfriend.
The screenplay by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, who also served as the co-producers of the film, later culminates to an eventual narrative point where, this is not a spoiler at all, Emma and Peter cannot hide their plan anymore from others involved with them in one way or another, but there is not enough comic momentum to make that crucial scene really funny, and that is another letdown for us. Furthermore, the movie only comes to fizzle as subsequently trudging toward its expected ending, and, again, it does not exceed our expectation much.
At least, the movie has two talented comic performers at its center, though their good efforts often remind us that they deserve materials better than this. While Charlie Day brings some natural comic intensity to his occasionally neurotic character, Jenny Slate, who has steadily advanced since her breakthrough turn in “Obvious Child” (2014), is delightful to watch as usual, and she and Day mostly click together well with each other throughout the film. In case of several other main cast members in the film, Gina Rodriguez, Clark Backo, Manny Jacinto, and Scott Eastwood are under-utilized due to their flat supporting roles, but Eastwood shows a bit of comic potential during his several scenes with Day, and the special mention goes to young performer Luke David Blumm. This young performer plays one of the kids participating in that school musical performance, and, in my trivial opinion, he holds his own small place well whenever he appears along with Slate on the screen.
In conclusion, “I Want You Back”, which is directed by Jason Orley is not exactly a waste of time, but there are many romantic comedy flicks which are funnier and wittier in comparison. Although I cannot possibly recommend “Addicted to Love” because it is also not a good one at all, I willingly recommend Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza” (2021) instead, and I assure you that you will have a more productive time with that charmingly youthful romantic comedy film.