Women at war: Bullying and cattiness, but few laughs
In “You Again,’’ Kristen Bell and Odette Yustman play Marni and Joanna, old high-school classmates. Joanna used to bully Marni. Years later Marni is shocked to discover that Joanna is marrying Marni’s brother, Will (James Wolk). Everyone loves Joanna, including the mother of the groom, Gail (Jamie Lee Curtis), who tells Marni that the past is the past. But no sooner does she finish that line than the doorbell rings and in walks Joanna’s Aunt Mona (Sigourney Weaver), Gail’s former best frenemy from the same high-school that Marni and Joanna attended.
This is another miserable movie about women at war over nonsense.
The inexplicable handheld camerawork gives you that “Saw IV’’ feeling. But lest we think “You Again’’ is a horror film, there’s a ubiquitous, sickeningly sweet score; it’s like toilet paper on the shoe of every scene. The entire cast has been encouraged to shout or pop their eyes or kick really high. We’re in the presence of former cheerleaders. Accordingly, the director Andy Fickman’s instruction to his cast appears to have been, “Pretend you’re at the Fiesta Bowl!’’
Highlights of the movie’s wedding weekend include a dance fight, a plate fight, and a pool fight. When one set of enemies manages to bury the hatchet, it’s with each woman slumped in front of an open refrigerator. Mascara stains the face. Cheese is sprayed onto an Oreo cookie. (That’s two apt metaphors for this movie.) At some point the word “culinary’’ is pronounced “killonary,’’ and the opening jags of Heart’s “Barracuda’’ are misapprehended for the purposes of conjuring cattiness.
There can be amusement in junk about women who set out to conquer each other over past humiliations, often, if not quite always, regarding a man: “The First Wives Club,’’ “Death Becomes Her,’’ “Drop Dead Gorgeous,’’ “Notes on a Scandal.’’ “You Again,’’ like last year’s “Bride Wars,’’ is an especially atrocious exception. The movie doesn’t hate women as much as it hates comedy. Fickman and the screenwriter Moe Jelline were never going for realism. But what precisely were they going for? It’s hard to think of a network that would pick up a half-hour version of this. Only by accident do the filmmakers wind up with farce. There’s really nowhere else for a badly made movie to go.
The pratfalls — jogging into an ant hill, crashing off a trampoline, getting drenched by the pipes of a bathroom sink — are mindless. Until the final scene, Betty White, as grandma, has nothing much to do except hand Bell a set of dentures. Kristin Chenoweth, meanwhile, as the wedding planner, descends from the ceiling and tries to steal a few scenes with her naughty-fairy shtick — she does know she can’t win a Tony for this, right?
At every point, the characters have to turn a blind eye to reality or propriety. Gail drops by Mona’s hotel room and accidentally destroys her dress. Why doesn’t Mona, who’s on an upsetting phone call at the time, later ask Gail what happened to her dress and why her bathroom is all wet? This is the sort of movie where, instead, Mona pulls her convertible alongside Gail’s car on the street, makes snide faces, and baits her rival into a drag race.
The cast isn’t terrible; they’re simply failed by the filmmaking. Kyle Bornheimer, who plays Joanna’s crazy ex, is a good, unlucky television actor. He appears to be using his handful of scenes here as an audition for a new show. Wolk, luckily, has one: Fox’s “Lone Star,’’ which just started this week. Bell possesses smart comic instincts — her generically pretty face has surprising range. But she needs a director she can trust (it isn’t Andy Fickman).
Meanwhile, Weaver and Curtis project their usual intelligence, which adds a tinge of embarrassment to their stabs at professionalism. To her credit, Weaver’s the one actor who arrived on the set with anything resembling a strategy. She plays her part — a fabulously successful businesswoman with a disastrous personal life — as a snaky underminer. “I like your look,’’ she hisses to Curtis. “It’s so American.’’ Weaver’s the one person who manages to emerge from this bomb with only a little soot on her face.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.