Written by Tresca Mallon
I Want You Back is mindless fun, with a stellar mix of laughter and sugary sweetness. Peter (Charlie Day) and Emma (Jenny Slate) have just been dumped by the loves of their lives. After meeting on the stairs of the building they both work in, they strike up a somewhat dysfunctional friendship. While lamenting their lost loves they hatch a plan to get them back. Peter is going to become friends with Anne’s ex Gym-Bro Noah (Scott Eastwood) and Emma is going to seduce Peter’s ex Anne’s (Gina Rodriguez) new boyfriend Logan (Manny Pacinto). Will the plan drive the ex’s back into their heartbroken arms?
I Want You Back doesn’t reinvent the wheel but that’s rarely a requirement for the genre. In recent years, rom-coms have attempted to change it up with varying results from the genius Palm Springs to the downright baffling Wild Mountain Thyme. However, sometimes sticking to the formula, the one that has been producing gems since before When Harry Met Sally, just works. It has the inciting incident, the meet cute, the caper, the complications and the eventual cheesy moment of realisation. Love wins out in the end and everyone lives happily ever after in their own way. Honestly, if you are feeling a joy deficiency I Want You Back is a perfect tonic.
Charlie Day and Jenny Slate are both underused and incredibly talented comedic talents and the comedy aspect is where they both excel. Both actors bounce off each other and go the extra mile with physical comedy as they carry out their scheming.Slate’s performance as a stand-in for a 12-year-old Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors is a stand-out moment in recent rom-com memory. However, a pretty important component is missing and it’s romantic chemistry (kind of essential in a romantic film). Unfortunately, there is a dearth of sexual tension in the modern rom-com and it’s starkly evident as the film barrels towards it’s fairly haphazard and overly-long climax. This isn’t so much of an issue in the first two acts of I Want You Back as the whole premise is that they are in love with different people, but we all know where it’s leading and while we root for them, we very rarely feel that romantic connection.
I Want You Back benefits from a supporting cast with no weak links. Pacinto is especially hilarious as the drama teacher with huge notions about his upcoming middle school production. Despite an unfortunately small amount of screen time, he nails the aggravating, pretentious ‘fuck-boy’ while still managing to be somewhat endearing. Rodriguez and Eastwood, as the exes, mirror each other pleasantly while adding enough contrast to keep interest and avoid repetition. They all suffer from a similar malady to the leads in that believable romance is severely lacking, however it’s not majorly missed.
I Want You Back is a cheese-fest that will no doubt become lost in the stacked Amazon Prime catalogue before long. However, it’s an unexpected, uncomplicated gem that deserves a moment of appreciation as a hangover cure, or an easy watch on a Sunday afternoon. While more of a chuckle than a cackle, with less compelling romance than the average slasher, there’s something very endearing about I Want You Back that sustains and entertains for most of its nearly two-hour run time.