The following review of I Want You Back is an edited transcription of the review above.
I Want You Back is a new romantic comedy from Jason Orley, who previously directed the coming-of-age dreamed Big Time Adolescence from 2020. He’s back with a well-timed rom-com for the Valentine’s Day crowd, adapting a screenplay by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, the screenwriting duo behind Love Simon and Turtles All the Way Down.
Charlie Day and Jenny Slate play Peter and Emma, two 30-somethings who’ve just been dumped by their respective partners. Emma was in a light and spontaneous relationship with a man’s man named Noah, played by Scott Eastwood, and Peter had been in a more serious, long-term relationship with someone who wants to try new things named Anne, played by Gina Rodriguez.
Peter and Emma become fast friends, and strictly platonic of course because they both desperately want to win back their partners, though for very different reasons. The trouble is that Noah and Anne have each started up new relationships that from the outside, and via the social media filter, look extremely promising. Noah has fallen in with a talented baker played by Clark Backo, and Anne is in a bit of a free-spirited relationship with a drama school teacher played by Manny Jacinto, who you might remember as Jason in The Good Place, great to see him.
At first, Peter and Emma are mostly content to dump all their anxieties and bad habits about their breakups on each other because there’s no judgment. The other person gets that the other person needs to stalk Instagram, they need to vent how frustrated they are about this person now being with this person, and so on.
It’s essentially a redo of Addicted to Love, as well as the first act of Friends with Benefits, but it then veers into being its own quirky thing. The initial premise is quite relatable and low-stakes, but then the film amps up its cinematic what-if wish fulfillment partway in when someone makes the suggestion, well what if we sabotaged these new relationships? What if we join forces and infiltrate the other person’s life, since your partner doesn’t know me and I don’t know them?
Only in the movies could such a despicable, emotionally toxic plan actually take shape, but that really is the fun of I Want You Back, because as you’re watching, you very well know that this isn’t going to work, and even if it does, it’s not really what these characters need, which has to be learned the hard way. It’s the fundamental basis of many a basic, human comedy is built upon. You have characters outside of the realm of acceptance and self-actualization having to gradually enter that circle through hi-jinks and situationally funny scenarios. It works out in this case because though the “what happens” of the movie isn’t all that surprising, the “how” is a cupid’s arrow.
I Want You Back has a pretty familiar formula, so it’s not going to breeze past someone who knows their rom-com bonafides inside out, but it is affecting and charming in how it brings about the expected emotional beats. The laughs come easy, and there are even a handful of insights some might not see coming, like in how it examines compatibility and what it means to accept your partner’s limitations while also believing in their dreams.
There’s also this idea of how some people fall in love instantaneously, while for others it’s a slow burn, and both approaches can be equally valid. It also helps that for the sheer comedic timing and execution, Day and Slate are able to outshine the subject matter just by being the talented comedians that they are, bouncing off each other at the right moments and being just as emotionally poignant at times as when they have to crack a quick joke.
Expectations should be managed, like in all things movie-related, but in terms of recent romantic comedies, or really just modern comedies in general, I Want You Back will probably have curious viewers wanting to come back for seconds and maybe even thirds come this Valentine’s Day and the next.
I Want You Back will be available to stream on Prime Video starting February 11. Watch the trailer here.