Kristen Bell does another variation on that Veronica Mars-lite character (smart but pretty but a bit doofy) in You Again, a mostly laugh-free comedy about girl-on-girl meanie-ness.
When in Rome, Couples Retreat, even Forgetting Sarah Marshall — she’s not quite at the Katherine Heigl level of soul-sucking repetition yet but she’s heading in that direction. And what’s sad is that Bell is more inherently likeable than Heigl. But she’s starting to slide down the same slope of deeply crummy girl movies.
Marni (Bell) is a successful public relations person who has worked hard to leave the pimply mess she was in high school far behind. She’s headed back home for her brother Will’s (James Wolk) wedding and is excited to meet his bride, Joanna (Odette Yustman). Oh, you know Joanna, says Marni’s mother Gail (Jamie Lee Curtis). You went to high school with her — Marni traumas back to high school when Joanna, then known as J.J., was the meanest of the mean girls who made Marni’s life hell. But when Marni arrives, Joanna hugs her and introduces herself, apparently not at all aware of Marni’s place in her high school career. Marni itches at the niceness darts Joanna throws off — she’s a nurse who does all sorts of charity work and who, in the years since her parents died, has worked hard to be the best she can be. Gail chirpily tells Marni to forgive and forget and leave the past in the past — advice she suddenly finds herself unable to take when Joanna’s aunt Ramona (Sigourney Weaver) shows up. Seems Gail and Ramona had their own awkwardness in high school. Gail is plenty happy with her life as a suburban mom but Ramona is certainly playing up her life as a glam businesswoman who wears va-va-voom dresses and sprinkles her speech with French.
And because she’s this season’s power accessory, Betty White shows up to play Grandma Bunny and say inappropriate sex things.
This movie definitely suffers from that condition where it sets up almost sane, potentially likeable people and then has them act in ways completely alien to normal humans. Let’s dig up a time capsule! Oh, no, I fell in an ants’ nest! Why not just have the women fight each other using shrink rays and magic beans — it’s not like there’s any sense of reality to lose here.
And since there aren’t any real people involved, their exploits and feelings aren’t particularly funny or interesting. You can’t laugh at how Marni is handling the situation — exactly what you’d do, maybe, or how you wish you’d handle it but never would — because she’s acting in a way unfamiliar to anyone but other rom-com girls (and no, this isn’t technically a romantic comedy, but it’s remarkable how you don’t even need the guy to create the same kind of awful desperation). There is nothing to gin up pathos, nothing that allows you to put yourself in her shoes (not Bell and not Curtis). The movie has assembled a decent amount of medium-watt star power but denied them the juice to shine. (These women might as well be owls for all the interest they don’t inspire; just about everything that makes Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Gaa’Hoole fail on a fundamental level — overly complicated plot, uninteresting characters, no clear motivation — makes You Again fail too. In fact, both movies would probably be better if, here, you replaced the women with talking owls and, in Legends etc., you replaced the owls with Jamie Lee Curtis and Betty White.)
Technically, You Again isn’t a remake or an adaptation of some earlier thing, but “ugh, this again?” was exactly how I felt when I watched it.
Rated PG for brief mild language and rude behavior. Directed by Andy Fickman and written by Moe Jelline, You Again is an hour and 45 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Touchstone Pictures.