A film review by Craig J. Koban March 8, 2022


2022, R, 111 mins.

Charlie Day as Peter  /  Jenny Slate as Emma  /  Scott Eastwood as Noah  /  Manny Jacinto as Logan  /  Clark Backo as Ginny  /  Gina Rodriguez as Anne

Directed by Jason Orley  /  Written by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger




The new Amazon Prime romcom I WANT YOU BACK is one of those types of films that  - despite its twisted and novel premise - manages to adhere to many of the most familiar and overused genre conventions in the book.  This Jason Orley directed affair is as predictable of a romcom as I've seen as of late, and anyone with reasonably sharp wits will be able to deduce exactly where its story is heading at any moment, especially as it makes its way to a fairly unavoidable conclusion.  

Having said that, though, I WANT YOU BACK makes up for its adherence to stale formulas by (a) making the journey of two lost souls coming together worth our time and investment, (b) being consistently hilarious throughout and (c) having two standout lead actors in Charlie Day and Jenny Slate that achieve the relatively impossible of making us like their characters that partake in otherwise vile behavior throughout. 

And what vile behavior, you may ask?  Well, let's just say that they play characters that respectively have been in long term relationships and are abruptly dumped by their partners, leaving them coming and conspiring together to sabotage the new relationships that their exes are in.  Seems inordinately petty and mean spirited, doesn't it?  In a lesser film and with lesser talent on board, then, yes, I WANT YOU BACK would have been a cringe endurance test of will to sit through, but Orley and his screenwriters in Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger manage to have fun with its macabre contorting of romcom troupes (while adhering to a lot of them) and generate a lot of hearty laughs at the expense of these hapless characters.  I WANT YOU BACK is rooted in a truly absurd premise, to be sure, but it somehow manages to marry a sensitive character approach with dark humor, which makes it all the more endearing. 

Day stars as Peter, who works on the board of a long-term care home in a position that seems to be sucking the life right out of him on a daily basis.  He's hopelessly in love with Anne (Gina Rodriguez) and has been with her for years, but she feels that he's holding her back and decides to call it quits with him.  Slate plays Emma, a receptionist at an orthodontics office that, like Peter, is also in a long standing relationship with the hunky Noah (Scott Eastwood), a highly motivated and ambitious minded personal trainer that - like Anne - wants more out of his life and doesn't see Emma being a part of it.  In a wildly convenient bit of scripting, Emma and Peter actually work out of the same building and cross paths a day after their respective dumpings.  Both are emotional messes and awkwardly try to console one another, which leads to a drunken night of Karaoke and wallowing in self-pity.  Neither of them can find a way to simply let go of their exes and somehow falsely feel that they've made a grave mistake in breaking up with them. 



Both Emma and Peter have an epiphany: They discover that Anna and Noah very quickly got involved with new people, so why not do everything possible to ruin these new relationships?  In a fiendish plan, Emma decides to go undercover and sabotage Anne's ties with her new boyfriend in middle school drama teacher Logan (Manny Jacinto) and Peter, in turn, will go undercover as well and become Noah's new BFF at the gym he works at to destroy his future with his new love in Ginny (Clark Backo).  Of course, their mutual plans are riddled with obstacles, such as the fact that the out of shape Peter will be forced to get into ridiculous shape in order to get into the inner circle of friends with the "super hero" looking Noah, whereas Emma has to get deeply entrenched in musical theater and fake her way through an appreciation of it to woe and seduce Logan away from Anne.   

And, for sure, you don't have to be a wise soothsayer to foresee exactly what will happen before the end credits start rolling. 

One of the most annoying things about most romcoms is when they make the new suitor of a main character (that's stymieing the efforts of another character to win him/her back) complete jerks without any redeeming qualities.  To me, that's cheap and lazy writing.  What's so refreshing in I WANT YOU BACK is that the exes here in Anne and Noah are not losers at all.  In fact, they're quite agreeable people that, as the film progresses, you grow to like as much as Peter and Emma.  That makes the revenge plan all the more compellingly tricky.  I admired how relatable all of these characters on both sides of this crazy payback scheme are rendered, which means that viewers simultaneously are cheering on Emma and Peter and not wanting Noah and Anne to get hurt in the process.  It's an intriguing conundrum, to say the least, and it allows the for the film to generate some solid comic forward momentum despite its preordained twists and turns of the plot.  By the time the film starts winding down to a close you really don't want any of these people to see any harm befall them. 

I WANT YOU BACK also never comes off as aggressively mean spirited, even though Emma and Peter's plan is, when you think about it, pure social evil.  It becomes easy to get sucked into the various misadventures that Emma and Peter find themselves thrust into in order to see their plans of comeuppance through to successful fruition.  For Emma, she has to submerge herself in the world of Logan's high school production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and be able authentically relay knowledge and interest in said production.  It's harder than it sounds.  For Peter, his task is more physically demanding, seeing as Noah is a hardcore workout-aholic and, early on, is driven to pure exhaustion by Noah's never-ending wellspring of energy.  One of the movie's more amusing segments involves Peter taking out his new bromate for a night out of clubbing, which inadvertently involves copious drug/alcohol usage and getting mixed up with girls way, way too young for them.  Two of the funniest scenes in the film both revolve around sex, the first of which involves Slate, Rodriguez, and Jacinto attempting the least erotic threesome in movie history and the other has Day hiding in a tiny bedroom ottoman while Noah and Ginny make non-stop love.   

Movies that generate laughs based on the insecurities - and shared misery - of its characters always score points with me.  I WANT YOU BACK is a rare romcom that's not about young people, but rather about aging thirtysomethings that feel trapped by life and sense that they're living below their potential.  The paralyzing anxiety about the future that people in their thirties feel versus those in their twenties or teens is almost more unsettling, and this film captures that numbing panic quite well.  This is complimented by the smart casting of Day and Slate in the leads.  They're not drop dead gorgeous looking movie stars, but instead come off like ordinary everyday people that feel the world closing in around them.  They both have this nervous and constantly fidgety energy about them, and while both have to harness the madcap and sometimes wacky tone of the material, they never broadly overplay their characters to the point of crude caricature.   They both maintain solid chemistry throughout and find a manner of tapping into their roles' fragile headspaces without allowing for them to become toxically obnoxious.  Also, the supporting cast built around them in Eastwood and Rodriguez are routinely fine and round off the film's performance assets rather well. 

Still, there's no overlooking that I WANT YOU BACK finds itself cemented in many sitcom worthy contrivances that, from time to time, seems like they're going to capsize the whole film altogether.  There are also some subplots that don't add up to as much they think, like a bizarre one involving Emma befriending a high schooler involved in Logan's production that never really pays off.  And at nearly two hours, I WANT YOU BACK seems to limp to the finish line as opposed to sprinting towards it, and by that time you're left wondering whether or not this film needed a tighter and shorter edit.  But, here's the thing: I WANT YOU BACK is pretty hilarious; it made me laugh in the right frequent dosages.  That, and Day and Slate together here are the comedic gift that manages to keep on giving throughout.  They're so good here that our interest in their cockamamie plan is sustained throughout, and their characters are rendered with a legitimate heart and soul.  I WANT YOU BACK is a sweet romcom about dirty deeds most foul, and considering all of the many recent and mostly foul romcoms out there, that's a testament to this one's worth. 

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