Director-for-hire and paycheck director are phrases that could describe any number of filmmakers in Hollywood currently. For the purpose of this review, they are identifiable with Andy Fickman. Several years ago, Disney gave him keys to the Magic Kingdom: a three-picture deal. His specialty of late is plots with simple contrivances instead of sound logic. And while his films The Game Plan and Race to Witch Mountain were decent hits, the brand of comedy presented would have been perfect if this was the ‘90s and TV viewing habits were those of the TGIF line-up on ABC.
His latest is You Again, a female-driven ensemble comedy featuring Sigourney Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis and Kristen Bell. Had the plot involved a killer in a white Capt. Kirk mask, a bunch of aliens, or Bell employed as a private detective, those would have been interesting developments, but that would be giving the writer, who is a woman, too much credit. Instead we get female characters with predictable foibles who would like nothing better than to tear each other down in slapstick antics without sound reasoning to back it up. All parties involved are so petty and insecure that one cannot begin to identify with any of them. So we are left with no rooting interest.
But it’s comedy, right? We at least should be welcomed with laughter. Sadly no. The jokes are telegraphed to the point that there is little spontaneity. Characters come across a stack of plates – you know they’re going to get thrown. Standing too close to a pool – yep, they’re going to fall in. Any spontaneity that is present is in the form of cameo appearances. Not to give anything away, but for one of the cameos all you have to do is look at Fickman’s previous works. If you need an extra assist, let’s just say you can smell what he’s cooking.
It’s sad to see the actresses involved in such a trite comedy. The phrase “you’re better than this” springs to mind. When Betty White, who is a natural when it comes to comedy, can’t achieve many laughs with the material you know you’re in trouble.
You Again opens in 2002 with Marni Olvia Olsen (Kristen Bell), a four-eyed, pimply-faced, brace-wearing student recounting her living hell that was high school. She’s constantly being bullied by the school’s most popular mean girl Joanna (Odette Yustman), who also happens to be the head cheerleader. The chip placed on her shoulder did wonders at strengthening her backbone; eventually Marni ditches the glasses for contacts, pimples for Proactiv, and suddenly looks like Sarah Marshall, only without the faltering TV career paired with Jason Bateman.
The day she gets a promotion to be the VP of a public relations office in New York, she heads back to the family home to attend her brother’s wedding. During the flight, she causes a scene when she discovers that her older brother Will (Jimmy Wolk) is engaged to marry her high school rival. This discovery is a total implausibility in a close-knit family such as hers. Yet we carry on.
Joanna’s wicked witch days are gone; now she’s a regular Mother Teresa in how she lives her life. Full of compassion and kindness, she helps the poor and works as a nurse. And yet, Joanna has no remembrance of Marni. She has charmed the socks off the rest of her family, however. Could it be a calculated ruse, where Joanna marries into the family only to inflict more pain to Marni? Unfortunately, that would be too clever. Instead, we are to wonder why Will can’t recall that Joanna was a prickly thorn in the side of his younger sis, despite all three attending high school together.
Will and Joanna meeting each other and becoming engaged is one coincidence. The other involves Marni’s mom, Gail (Jamie Lee Curtis), meeting Joanna’s aunt Ramona (Sigourney Weaver) who just happens to be her old best friend from high school. Since this is a Disney release, “It’s a Small World (After All)” makes a lot of sense with this development.
The gal pals had a falling out during their senior prom – it involved a guy (shocking!) – and haven’t talked since. But the conflict that existed is more about a competitive spirit than petty boy squabbling. Gail was first in everything, while Ramona was runner up. Now adults, Gail has a raised a family and Ramona is a successful hotel entrepreneur with a full bank account.
As the comedy plays out we have parallel stories. Marni is trying to prove to everyone that Joanna is really the spawn of Satan. Gail is trying to not let Ramona’s wealth and confidence intimidate her.
The clashes of both stories have no sting or sizzle. The conflicts resort to sitcom devices. It’s why Fickman never wastes an opportunity to have them all present in the same scene – dance lessons, bridal showers and the rehearsal dinner – or to sample old pop hits like Britney Spears’ “Toxic” or a lame cover version of Kris Kross’s “Jump.”
With a throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks mentality, You Again reeks of desperation. It could the moral fiber of learned lessons, which taste something awful. The comedy is beyond broad; every performance is a waste. It is not the slightest bit entertaining. When someone suggests seeing You Again, quickly respond, “Oh no, not You Again.”
Directors: Andy Fickman
Notable Cast: Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver, Betty White
Writer(s): Moe Jelline