I WANT YOU BACK. Contrary to my frequent quarrelsomeness – contrarianism in all things! — I like romantic comedy (almost) as much as the next viewer. Despite their foaminess and occasional ubiquity, romantic comedies are inherently charming, an opportunity for attractive people to play the occasional fool and (when I’m feeling sentimental) to find love in unexpected places. Most importantly, these films can, at least by the principles of their original design, be a showcase for the most sophisticated and challenging scripts in motion pictures. Comedy is difficult enough, but from its inception this genre has challenged writers (and actors, in fairness) to construct intricate verbal and physical jokes using multiple, diverse voices, not just for laughs, but with enough authenticity and care to let audiences in believing that people can actually be that funny, that sexy, that awkward, and that verbally, at least for a few hours. It’s a genre of sublime, worldly humanism and a balancing act of joke construction and story structure. It’s no small thing if done well.
The problem, of course, is that increasingly it’s not being done well. Decades have worn away the edges of the characters and their minds, the practicality of the money machine has simplified the scenarios and language. What started out as the smartest of genres has gradually descended into pathetic stupidity. Nobody’s fault really, just a sign of the times.
What can’t be said I want you back is boring or stupid. Rather, I wanted to build the momentum that makes me dread and look forward to these modern day romantic comedies (with casts that so often consist of beloved comedians and character actors-turned-stars). Despite my misgivings, I remain a sucker for form and usually foolishly hope that a hyperliterary slapstick love story will emerge from the swamp. I want you back maybe not the one, but I can’t stay too mad at it.
Peter (Charlie Day) and Emma (Jenny Slate) were dumped almost simultaneously by their respective partners in favor of seemingly more dynamic, less anxious lovers. Anne (Gina Rodriguez), believing Peter has become a lifeless henchman for the company, takes on the currently electrifying high school dramatist Logan (Manny Jacinto). Despite an abiding affection for Emma, Noah (Scott Eastwood) sees greater opportunity and spark in Ginny (Clark Backo).
Peter and Emma, previously unknown to each other, meet by chance, strike up a friendship and decide to team up to destroy each other’s ex’s new romance. What could possibly go wrong? Well, plenty, it turns out, but none of this is particularly surprising.
The film basks in the charms of its stars for good reason: Slate has emerged as one of the most delightful, intricately understated, screen talents in recent years. Ditto Day, except his performances at his best are not restrained. The problem, I think, is the script’s insistence on the sloppiness and undesirableness of its two leads. They’re both undeniably sexy and charming, albeit in a non-traditional (for Hollywood) way, and their attributes shine through in the comedic bonding scenes they share. The romantic tension between them is palpable throughout, and the film does the characters and audience a disservice by ignoring/editing the will-they-or-don’t-they-want aspect of their relationship. After all, the trope has become cliche for a reason — it wouldn’t be a romantic comedy without it. For a similar reason, Noah and Anne have very little inner light, despite the good work Eastwood and Rodriguez both do to enliven them.
I want you back then falls into a category between categories. Light and harmless, with flashes of subversive humor, it’s not disposable, but it’s also nothing of substance. R. 116M. AMAZON PRIME.
KIMI. His career hasn’t been as loud as some (although he was a festival darling early on and an Oscar winner in the middle), but Steven Soderbergh might rank as the all-time great. While generations of writers and filmmakers have condemned the advent of streaming movies through every available outlet, Soderbergh has worked within every framework he could. He has negotiated deals with several streaming giants and in that time has produced some of the most vibrant and ambitious work of his long and eventful career. Neither of them may be an “event” film, as Christopher Nolan would like it to be, but they are all significant and fascinating achievements – the ongoing performance of a (seemingly timeless) master craftsman.
The latest addition to the canon, Kimi Stars Zoë Kravitz as a severely agoraphobic tech worker (she corrects linguistic misunderstandings for the artificial intelligence of the same name) who is pulled from her home and drawn into corporate intrigue when she hears about a violent crime in one of her workstreams. It’s a tight, paranoid ’70s-inspired thriller with a thoroughly modern twist. It’s also a master class in parsimonious cinematography, with subtle camera movements, elaborate lighting and impeccable editing (all the work of Soderbergh himself, albeit attributed to his pseudonyms). Kimi makes a lot out of little and, like much of the director’s work, would serve as an excellent example to others of how to contain excess and focus on the craft. R.89M. HBO MAX
John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good chase.
BELFAST. Kenneth Branagh writes and directs his own Irish coming-of-age story. PG13. 98M. BROADWAY, SMALL.
BLACK LIGHT. Liam Neeson plays a retired spy and you’ll never guess what happens to his family. PG13. 108M. BROAD.
THE DAMNED. Sean Ellis writes and directs a horror film set in a 19th-century French village about vampires and worse. 113M. BROAD.
DEATH ON THE NILE. PG13. 127M. Kenneth Branagh and his megastar return as Hercule Poirot in the mystery remake of Agatha Christie. With Gal Gadot and Annette Bening. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, SMALL.
DOG. Channing Tatum stars in a buddy/road trip movie starring a Belgian Malinois. Shot. PG13. 90M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
JACCASS FOREVER. It’s all fun and games until someone in this aging crew breaks a hip. R. 96M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
Liquorice PIZZA. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s coming of age and first love story set in 1970s California. With Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman. R. 133M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, SMALL.
MARRY ME. JLo as a pop star who marries random teacher Owen Wilson, like Bennifer 2.0 didn’t put me through enough. PG13. 112M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
MOONFALL. Halle Berry flies into space with Patrick Wilson and John Bradley to save the planet. PG13. 120M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
PARALLEL MOTHERS. Drama about a couple of expectant mothers – one teenage, one middle-aged – who bond in a maternity ward. R. 123M. SUBORDINATE.
SCREAM. 25 years later, the horror franchise is stepping in friends Goodbye, but stabilize. With Courtney Cox, Neve Campbell and David Arquette. R. 120M. BROAD.
SINGING 2. The animated animal musical returns with the voices of Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon. PG. 112M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME. See what happens when you take off your mask? Starring Tom Holland and Zendaya. PG13. 148M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
UNCHARTED. Treasure hunt adventure starring Tom Holland, Sophia Ali and Marky Mark that I only recognize in its Funky Bunch form. PG13. 116M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, SMALL.
For show times call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theater 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Little Theater 822-3456.