I Want You Back romcom review

Heartwarming! From the outstanding cast chemistry to the clever writing, you need to make I Want You Back part of your Valentine’s Day celebrations at the cinema (for the limited theatrical run) or on Amazon Prime Video. Much like Broken Hearts Gallery showed us that the romcom can be reimagined for today’s teen and 20-something audiences, Jason Orley’s I Want You Back is the romcom reimagined for 30-something audiences. If it can make cynics like me once again believe that my “plane mask buddy” (you’ll just have to see the film to get the reference) is still out there, you too will find the story incredibly endearing! While the classical American romcom has largely fallen out of favor with a significant portion of movie audiences over the last decade or so, there are films that take the foundation of what made the romcom such an American cinema staple, and upon it, build plots and characters that both resonate across ages and cultures and still deliver the quirks and laughs that are such a hallmark of the romcom. It’s been a long time since I’ve witnessed such excellent chemistry between an ensemble in a comedy, and it is the characters that will command a rewatch of this soon-to-be quintessential romcom, that will undoubtedly rank up there with the likes of Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, Two Weeks Notice and more.

Peter (Charlie Day) and Emma (Jenny Slate) are total strangers. When they meet, they realize they were both dumped on the same weekend. Their commiseration turns into a mission when they see that each of their ex-partners have happily moved on to new romances.

What makes this movie work so well is the focus on character-driven (or dramatic) storytelling. When the character(s) drives the plot, we refer to it as drama, while the action driving the plot is referred to as melodrama. Just a little film studies there, for ya. The movie wastes no time in establishing who our central and chief supporting characters are; this is an important screenwriting decision because it allows for the character reactions to drive the story in a manner in which we believe everything the characters do because the rules for the characters were established up front. You can get away with anything if you set it up appropriately.

Yes, there are melodramatic moments (and you will need to engage your suspension of disbelief), but every emotional beat and turning point is earned and delivered meaningfully. Meaningful. That is a description that is so often overlooked in comedies. When writers focus so much on laughs, the art of meaningful storytelling is lost. In the writers room, a strong story with well-developed plot and characters can always be punched up with laughs, versus a laugh-a-minute story with poorly-developed plot and characters, which has a problem requiring major diegetic surgery.

Authenticity! You will find the characters to be incredibly believable and real, with little to no pretense. Our leads and supporting cast feel like your coworkers, neighbors, and friends. We all have someone in our lives of whom the characters will remind us. In fact, you will likely see yourself IN one or more of the characters. When you can place yourself in the story, the degree to which it impacts you will significantly increase. And it’s even better when you can laugh along with the characters. But what makes these characters connect and resonate with audiences is the unexpected level of vulnerability the characters demonstrate. And it’s our vulnerabilities, our flaws and the ability to learn, grow, and experience redemption that makes us human.

Perhaps you are like me, a romantic cynic. So, your default setting is disdain and pessimism for anything that even has a hint of romance and erotic love. I find it difficult to connect with the typical romcom, even the great ones of the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. Just feels like something so out of reach and unbelievable that I’d rather watch another horror movie. If someone like me can be touched by I Want You Back, then I know that it can touch even the most cynical. Personally, I see myself as two-parts Emma and one-part Peter. And it’s the prolific opportunities to connect with the characters that will cause this movie to find a place in your heart.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Digital Citizenship at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

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“Gifted” movie review

A cute paint-by-the-numbers heartwarming drama. Although Gifted may be in the vein of a Hallmark Original, it doesn’t shy away from nor sanitize the real problems faced by adults and children. Fresh off the Spider-Man series, director Marc Webb switches gears from superhero action movie to family drama. However, this drama stands out from its counterparts due to the organic feel of the dialog and in how it follows a blockbuster formula. Webb is certainly not new to directing cinematic dramas; he directed the wildly popular 500 Days of Summer which has a cult following in and of itself. Diegetic contrast can easily be drawn between Gifted and 500 Days of Summer in the simple fact that the former is chronologically out of order–but it can easily be said that the movie would not have the artistic or emotional impact that it did if it were told in order–whereas the latter is traditional in linear storytelling. If it were not for Chris Evans and Octavia Spencer’s billing in the film, this one would likely go by the wayside. Over the course of a director or writer’s career (although not limited to those roles), there are occasionally films that provide audiences with a glimpse into a director getting in tough with his or her roots, and this is one of those. More polished and comprehensive than a typical Hallmark movie, Gifted is satisfying enough but does not leave a lasting impact.

Faced with raising his niece Mary (McKenna Grace) after the untimely death of his sister, Frank Adler (Chris Evans) lives a modest, hardworking life in a small coastal town in Florida. Mary is no ordinary child; she is a mathematics prodigy. Against the advice of friend and neighbor Roberta (Octavia Spencer), Frank enrolls Mary in a typical elementary school. When Mary’s unparalleled, brilliant mathematical skills come  to the attention of Mary’s teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) and principal, her school encourages Frank to enroll her in an exclusive school for cognitively gifted children. With a deep desire for Mary to have a normal, fun childhood, Frank declines the full-scholarship. News of Mary’s ability and the scholarship soon reach Frank’s mom Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), a genius in her own right. After failing to reason with her son, Evelyn takes him to court in order to secure parental rights. Throughout the custody battle, skeletons come out of the closet and the reasons for Frank’s decisions become clear.

Paralleling the brilliance of Mary’s cognitive abilities, a trait that runs through the entire family, the most notable element that stands out in Gifted is the casting. Child actors playing characters who are atypically outstanding in a particular field can come across as precocious, if not just plain annoying. Whether a kid genius, musical savant, or prima ballerina, attributing adult-like qualities to a child can create a character that comes across as out of touch with the majority of the audience. Not so with McKenna Grace. With her wide eyes, missing front teeth, and refreshing spontaneity, she provides audiences with a relatable character who just happens to be brilliant. This relatablity can be attributed to her down-home charm and humble demeanor. When he’s not saving the world, Captain America is raising his niece in a non-discript small coastal town outside of the bustling Tampa-St. Pete metropolitan area. While many actors become type casted after bringing an iconic character to life, Evans is working to prevent this by appearing in lead roles that are in stark contrast to his work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sporting a perpetual scruffy beard, love for the outdoors, and a boyish-fatherly charm, Evans demonstrates his ability to successfully transfer his acting prowess to other genres in cinema outside of his famous Captain America.

Supporting the two leads are Spencer’s Roberta and Duncan’s Evelyn who are interestingly mirror characters in that they are the antithesis of one another. Although her screen time is limited, Roberta’s appearances are strategic and greatly support the emotional pull of the movie. Wise beyond her likely formal education, Roberta cares nearly as much about Mary’s well-being as does her father-figure uncle. Spencer’s charisma is easily seen in this chief supporting role and I cannot think of another female actor who could have done this role justice as well as Spencer did. The character of Evelyn is an interesting one to evaluate. On one hand, she is a monster of a grandmother who wants to control her granddaughter and protect the family’s academic legacy; but for fear of smothering her like she did her own daughter, tries to be as loving and concerned as she can. Although at first I thought that this was a role better suited for Jessica Lange, I do not feel that Lange could have captured the vibrant love that Evelyn has for her family–tough love maybe–but sincere love for and desire for her children to be successful. Evelyn is both an enlightened academic and tough-loving mother and grandmother.

Gifted does its best to be a tear-jerker, but it never quite hits that emotional peak. There were times that I was close to tearing up, but there was just a little something extra missing that prevented the tears from rolling down my face. The plot of this film was as structured, precise, and predictable as a chalk equation on a blackboard, but it still has a charm that will assist it in beckoning patrons to watch it at the cinema when it hits select theaters this week with a wide release predicted in the near future.

Written by R.L. Terry

Written by J.M. Wead