Romcoms are a special sort of comfort food, like a big bowl of caramel popcorn, a fuzzy blanket, and soft pants. The setup is totally formulaic: You know that as soon as you meet the leads, that they will be destined to get together by the end of the film. So it usually depends on the chemistry of the leads whether the journey is worth it. Luckily for I Want You Back, the match of Charlie Day and Jenny Slate is actually pretty realistic and charming.
Peter (Charlie Day) and Emma (Jenny Slate) meet cute, in a tear-soaked way, in the stairwell of the office building where they both work. Both just dumped by their partners, whom they thought were the respective loves of their lives, they are left flailing in their thirty-something angst. Shouldn’t they be married with kids at this point, like all of their friends? Instead, they wail to each other (like only strangers do), they are both faced with starting over.
After a drunken night of karaoke, where they make the mistake of checking their exes’ Instagram accounts (showing happy, lovely-dovey pics with their new partners) Peter and Emma come up with the best plan that their emotionally-scarred minds can think of: Why, they’ll team up together to break up their exes’ new relationships, to prove to them that Peter and Emma are the loves of their lives. Yeah, there is a lot that can go wrong with this.
Emma’s target is teacher Anne (Gina Rodriguez) and her new beau Logan (Manny Jacinto). Overly-confident but funny Emma thinks she can break them up by seducing Logan away from Peter’s ex Anne. Meanwhile, less confident as a Lothario, Peter aims to become buddies with Emma’s ex Noah (Scott Eastwood), a personal trainer, to make Noah question his new relationship with Ginny (Clark Backo). Of course, the deeper they get into their plan, the more squeamish they become that things are not as they expected.
I was a little nervous about sitting through a romantic comedy with Charlie Day as the lead, as my exposure to his shrill comedy style has made me grind my teeth in the past, but luckily he tones it down to an amiable, if a little pathetic pitch. What I’ve seen of Jenny Slate, I’ve liked, and this remains true. She is both funny and vulnerable, and is a reflection of everyone who seemingly doesn’t have their shit together in their 30s. Plus, her attempted seduction of Anne and Logan into a threesome is pretty hilarious.
I Want You Back is a formulaic and pleasant enough ride, offering few surprises (except for the fact that none of the main players are truly assholes, which is kind of refreshing). Even the side characters, who are usually stereotypes, walk away with some dignity intact. In general, I’ll admit that romcoms are not my cup of tea, but hanging out with these folks was an amiable enough diversion. I’m sure this film will appeal to lots of folks who seek this sort of comfort food, especially as it drops in time for Valentine’s Day.