Against the odds as presented by a holiday made up to sell greeting cards and a genre that hasn’t had an original idea since The Two Gentlemen of Verona, I Want You Back will make you believe in the power of romance and comedies. Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger’s wry, smart script will make you laugh even if you’re spending Valentine’s Day listening to your mother bemoan the fact that you’re still single. Director Jason Orley’s ensemble cast delivers farce-level shenanigans without ever losing their relatability, even when they become weirdly embedded in the world’s most unexpectedly moving staging of Little Shop of Horrors.
The highly heteronormative plot begins as Emma (Jenny Slate) and Peter (Charlie Day) are dumped by their respective SOs, Noah (Scott Eastwood) and Anne (Gina Rodriguez). After a sloppy-drunk night of karaoke and crying, Emma and Peter decide to team up on a scheme to get their exes back. Complications including a wedding ensue, many involving Noah and Anne’s new boos, Ginny (Clark Backo) and Logan (Manny Jacinto). Slate, nobody’s manic pixie dream girl, delivers a rendition of “Suddenly Seymour” that will have you in tears in the best possible way. It’s a romantic comedy, not a tragedy, so the plot can only go in one direction. I Want You Back continually surprises nonetheless.
In the end, it’s about more than love or bad breakups or awkward three-ways or hiding in your ex’s clothes hamper while they’re having sex with somebody else right next to said hamper. When Emma worries that her life as an adult has somehow stalled and left her in a limbo of inertia she can’t control, it’s hard not to be reminded that thanks to COVID, we’ve all been living in an era of systemic stalling. Thank Saint Valentine for the artists who make us laugh. R, 111 min.