After many years of romanticizing unrelatable contrived instances of love in their films, like Little Black Book, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, and even Maid in Manhattan, Hollywood has finally taken its cues from their audiences and has given the people what they want: more relatable romantic comedies. Among the many gems that Hollywood has produced in the last decade, Always Be My Maybe, Single All the Way, Bridesmaids, here is another to add to the collection: I Want You Back.
This romantic comedy has it all: a relatable storyline, sensitive dialogue, and an absorbing performance from an outstanding cast. I Want You Back perfectly captures a feeling many of us have had at least once in our life, which makes this truly a film worth watching.
Director Jason Orley and writers Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker take us into the lives of two less-than-perfect couples. Peter (Charlie Day, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) is the VP of a retirement home corporation. Anne (Gina Rodriguez, Scoob!) is Peter’s longtime girlfriend of six years, who is an English teacher. They are both celebrating Anne’s nephew’s birthday, and it is here that Anne decides to break up with Peter. Anne affirms what makes their life so dull: “We are boring, we make salmon, we watch Dancing with the Stars.”
At the same time, Emma (Jenny Slate, Parks and Recreation) is an orthodontist’s receptionist and an adorable, clueless 30-something adult. She is just drifting through life, while still staying in the same place she rented as a teen in college. Her boyfriend Noah (Scott Eastwood) is a health enthusiast who works at a local gym. They decide to have lunch at a restaurant and have a terribly similar discussion about the status of their relationship. In both courtships, one member was completely oblivious to the emotional state of the other and the other was already planning to be with someone else.
In the first few moments of the film, the relationships between Peter and Anne and Noah and Emma are revealed through an adorable compilation of videos. In each video clip, a piece of their respective relationships is given nuance and depth. This visual recollection allows the viewer to feel the breakup on an emotional level without having to experience it themselves.
I Want You Back is a relatable story. It provides a lens through which unhealthy vices like drinking a lot, scheming to get someone back, and even obsessing over their social media page can be understood at a distance. I mean, who among us hasn’t wanted an ex back? This film captures those moments but grants us some time to think about it further beyond the initial shock of it all.
After their breakups, Peter and Emma find each other. They both work in the same office building, just one floor apart. Having shared moments of discomfort for their current situations, they decided to hang out and commiserate together. In an instance of drunken clarity, they decided to concoct what can only be classified as terrible schemes to get their partners back. They decide to sabotage their ex-lovers’ entanglements by injecting themselves into each other’s ex’s relationships. Peter becomes Noah’s friend and Emma joins Anne’s new relationship. Not only is their pain and planning felt on a deeper level, but we also get to experience it again when we are introduced to Noah’s new girlfriend Ginny (Clark Backo) and Anne’s new boyfriend Logan (Manny Jacinto, The Good Place).
Both the carefully constructed writing and the performances of these actors are perfectly balanced between realistic breakups and awkward new beginnings. What makes Peter so believable is that he is where many of us find ourselves: in a comfortable part of our relationship. Peter is at an impasse: too old to change but too young to be prudent. He wants to change but is unable to make the first step. Similarly, Emma is unable to move past her college mindset, though she technically isn’t in college anymore. These two people want to better themselves but are unable or unwilling to make the necessary changes.
After the ridiculous, half-baked schemes they hatch up together, there is an underpinning of humor that brings out the more playful side of these characters. Peter and Emma get locked in a trunk, get involved in uncomfortable ménage à trois, and even jump off a roof and into a hot tub, all to help move the plan along. These characters are flawed in so many ways, but it’s this quality that makes them hard to not fall in love with — well, except for their exes who didn’t.
Even though this is a fictional work, it feels real; Peter and Emma stalk their past lovers on social media, they want to call them, and they even meet the people they are now with — all ideas many of us have at one point or another. While watching this, there is a strange pulling that will remind you of that one person who left. But, as the film reminds us, they left for a reason, and it’s important to remember why that is. It’s crucial to remember not to romanticize the past, which can be hard since this is a romantic comedy. Relatability is what makes this film a must-watch.
I Want You Back is available to stream on Prime Video February 11, 2022.
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Donnie Lopez is a gay Latino/Hispanic social and political commentator, writer, entertainment journalist, and professor. He writes on topics that affect Hispanic/Latino culture. With his novel insight, veracity, and sense of humor, he entertains as well as educates the world.