Consider that the romantic comedy I Want You Back is a strategic look at love and all the crazy things it makes us do. First, Jason Orley’s film is released on Amazon Prime today. It will go against Universal’s Marry Me with its day-and-date release in theaters and on Peacock. Second, its romantic theme is influenced by the comedic aspects, reminiscent of American Pie or There’s Something About Mary – the innuendos fly left and right.
Charlie Day’s Peter is the middle of it all, a young executive who shares a building with Jenny Slate’s Emma. Both Peter and Emma have just had relationships with others, broken up by Gina Rodriguez’s Anne and Scott Eastwood’s Noah. Both couples were miserable with each other; Noah and Anne both felt their partners were holding them back. A common theme of all three movies being released this weekend (Blacklight, Marry Me, and I Want You Back) is that the characters don’t trust themselves. Either through their romantic or familial relationships, ending in sabotage or self-sabotage dooming or damning the characters.
Spontaneity becomes crucial for these characters, as Peter and Emma set in motion a plan to break Anne’s and Noah’s new relationships apart, while choice and fear hold them back.
I Want You Back Brian Burgoyne’s cinematography is filled with light signaling hope from its onset. Shot around Atlanta and Savannah (visit Savannah when you can!), Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger’s script breaks couples apart; the single characters are thrust into awkward situations, bringing them together again for an even more awkward rejoining only for the main characters to realize they need each other.
Day, Slate, Rodriguez, Eastwood, and Jacinto are good sports regarding their characters and relationships. Orley effectively conveys the characters’ needs while Day and Slate remain oblivious to their antics. It leads to several awkwardly staged scenes, eliciting belly laughs; some moments are genuinely funny. Peter’s brotherly relationship with Eastwood’s Noah is a perfect example, as is Charlie’s “blind” in the second act comes to mind. Other moments, particularly a drug-induced frat party with Pete Davidson’s cameo, are just plain awkward. The guys are guys, but the scene doesn’t play that way, feeling restrained in its content, conclusion, and execution.
These moments are not meant to be cringe-worthy; they attempt to engender empathy, so much so that they fall apart in between the laughs.
A relationship that might have worked had Anne not been as uptight as Marry Me’s Charlie was with Jacinto’s Logan. I Want You Back is not so taboo as to suggest an implied, overt sexual act. The story does not force the characters into anything (thank goodness!). Anne’s discomfort is apparent. However, Emma’s constant push toward it as a tool to break Anne and Logan apart, along with Logan’s self-centeredness, doesn’t work as effectively as the script probably thought it should.
Eventually, they go their separate ways only to be brought back again by comfort and hurt. The characters realize their foibles; however, the hurt caused by Peter and Emma’s nefarious plans sour the various relationships.
Visually, Orley portrays the relationships effectively, if coming in “too little, too late.”
On the one hand, I appreciated what I Want You Back had to say – that we need each other more than we realize, especially when we’re in long-term relationships. Sometimes, the time has a funny way of tricking our sensibilities and, because I am a Romeo (at least, I think I am), some of the film’s themes hit too close to home. The challenges the characters face and the hooks became too on the nose. The characters learned their lesson. The film follows a logical course in its end.
We can laugh all we want; Day and Slate want us to. We can be uncomfortable; Rodriguez and Jacinto want us to be. As much as I maligned it, spontaneity is the exacting spice that makes relationships truly work.
Peter and Emma have good intentions even if they trip on them. Breaks are good; brakes are not so good. If we take away anything from I Want You Back, it should be to question goals, to affirm the meaning in our lives, not at the expense of being miserable, but at the behest of finding our morals and convictions. Communication is key, and this is one theme that is sorely lacking in the film.
Love finds a way through the morass and morals. Marry Me invites the laughs, trips on its own two feet, and manages to regain its composure through its awkward setups.