[Screen It]

(2010) (Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis) (PG)

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Comedy: A young woman must contend with her brother marrying her former high school tormentor, all while their mother must contend with her own rival from her high school days.
Once upon a time, way back in 2002, Marni (KRISTEN BELL) was the high school wallflower. With braces, unfashionable glasses, acne and a bad haircut, she was practically invisible, except to Joanna (ODETTE YUSTMAN), known as J.J. back then, who routinely tormented her, what with being the self-proclaimed warden of the school.

Since then, Marni has grown up into an attractive young woman who turned her past grief into becoming a confident success in the PR world. That's about to change when she learns that her older brother, Will (JIMMY WOLK), is about to marry Joanna, unaware of her past bullying of his kid sister. Such past behavior is also unknown to Marni's parents, Gail (JAMIE LEE CURTIS) and Mark (VICTOR GARBER), younger brother Ben (BILLY UNGER) or Grandma Bunny (BETTY WHITE).

They all love Joanna for the compassionate, socially conscious young woman she now is, but Marni can't let go of the past. The same holds true for her mom when Joanna's aunt, Ramona (SIGOURNEY WEAVER), shows up for the big weekend. A highly successful business woman, she's all lovey-dovey toward Gail, just like Joanna is to Marni, but Gail can't forget that Ramona turned from her best friend into her nemesis back in their high school days.

As they all take dance lessons with the flamboyant Georgia (KRISTIN CHENOWETH) who works in a dance studio owned by Tim (KYLE BORNHEIMER) who dated Joanna back in college, they must contend with their feelings about each other and their past, all while Marni tries to make an impression on her secret high school crush, Charlie (SEAN WING), who's also attending the wedding.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Everyone knows the old saying about that which doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. While that might be true in an overall sense, try telling that to a kid in school who's being bullied and see if they agree. For them, it seems like something that will never stop (much like high school in general), and there's the underlying fear that the bully (or bullies) could show up and strike at any moment.

The only reprieve is the safety of home and summer break and the thought of graduation and getting away from the torment. Of course, before that (and sometimes afterwards) there are the fantasy moments where such tormentors get a taste of their own medicine, face some sort of comeuppance, or pay the piper in some fashion.

Accordingly, films where the latter occurs within the context of the plot and not just in the victim's head are often favorites of such victims who often carry emotional scars with them for some time, while others use such experiences to fashion a steely resolve to succeed in life. On the surface, and from the previews, the comedy "You Again" would seem to be one of those pics.

In it, Kristen Bell plays a young woman who survived such high school torment and has gone on to become a success in the PR world, something she discusses with her colleagues as the film opens (and shows her in the usual ugly duckling stage that eventually blossomed into her current beautiful swan mode). On her way home to her brother's (Jimmy Wolk) wedding, she learns from her mother (Jamie Lee Curtis) that the bride-to-be just so happened to attend their high school with them. Unsurprisingly, she turns out to be her former tormentor (Odette Yustman), thus sending Marni into panic mode.

How could this be? What will she do? How will she act with her future sister-in-law? I wonder what's playing in the theater next door? I'm sorry, that last one was me and not Marni. From the moment I learned that this bright girl never knew this before heading to the wedding, I recognized the script was already in trouble. Wouldn't she have discussed this girl with her brother, emailed pictures, or at least recognized the last name? (the explanation given is that since the villain goes by her full name rather than initials, that's enough to throw off our hero's intelligence)

But I digress. While that discovery leads to a briefly amusing cameo with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as an understanding federal marshal who chats with Marni while she's cuffed for the rest of the flight after disrupting things, the story never really goes anywhere from there. Sure, she has to meet her former nemesis who doesn't seem to remember her and has seemingly turned over a new leaf in her life's mission (she's a social do-gooder now, following the death of her parents). And then that girl's rich aunt (Sigourney Weaver, sadly not up to her "Working Girl" standards as a villainess) shows up, thus seemingly providing for a double-dose of comedic potential.

After all, she was once Marni's mom's high school nemesis, and thus the stage would seem set for any number of comedic shenanigans as the mother-daughter duo could conspire to get their individual or collective revenge or any number of other combinations of getting even. It could have been "Mean Girls: The Reunion" or something along those lines. Or it just could have been funny.

Alas, I don't think I laughed once at what screenwriter Moe Jelline concocted for her characters or the way in which director Andy Fickman handled the material. They even throw in the currently hot Betty White as the grandmother figure, Kristin Chenoweth as a flamboyant dance instructor, Kyle Bornheimer as an emotionally unstable former boyfriend, and Patrick Duffy as a surprise cameo to try to liven things up a bit, but none of them can do much with the material they've been given.

The big problem -- beyond being a broadly played, mediocre sitcom style comedy -- is that the filmmakers (and thus the cast) don't seem clear on what sort of movie they want to make. Sadly, it's not entirely an outrageous revenge comedy (for all of those viewers who've been bullied in the past and want some vicarious comeuppance), nor is it a smart one (sorry, the various profound messages about second changes, nobody getting through high school unscathed, etc. don't count), and it's certainly not terribly creative. In short, it feels uneven and unsure from start to finish.

"You Again" isn't the worst comedy of the year, it's just a forced and nearly laugh-free disappointment considering the built-in potential and the decent cast that's been assembled. While bullying isn't funny in real life, a movie about it can be, especially if done with the right mixture of smarts, heart and a healthy dose of vinegar. Sadly, this isn't one of them. The film rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed September 21, 2010 / Posted September 24, 2010

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