Watching Michael's new film "Back in the Day" was a nice break last night. I was excited for it - because Michael! - but it actually turned out to be more original and more subversive than I was expecting.
I'll post a review at the end, so as not to spoil anyone. But first: The Pretty!
Michael & Morena Baccarin have great chemistry.
And look great together.
With Kristoffer Polafa
Those soulful eyes.
Review and BIG SPOILERS
"Sorority Boys" subverts its genre because the expectation is that the frat boys will "make over" the quirky geek girls and make them "fun" when in fact, the girls remain happily quirky and the fratboys learn not to be asses.
"Back in the Day" has the appearance of a romantic comedy and a "reunion" movie - the latter is a very American genre, I find. Big City Boy (or girl) returns to small town, has a "there's no place like home" epiphany and reunites with a Former Love. Often Former Love has a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse of their own but they still carry a torch for BigCity and they are destined to be together. The Obstacle Boyfriend or Girlfriend is often clearly inferior to BigCity and may be revealed to be a jerk or cheater. Michael has played versions of Obstacle Boyfriend in more than one movie. (Kickin' it Old Skool, Hit & Run)
My expectation for "Back in the Day" was: Michael's tired of playing "the Other Guy." He wants to be "The Guy." He wants to win the big game and get the girl! But this is where the film is subversive: he does neither.
Michael's character (Jim) & Morena's (Laurie) are shown as childhood sweethearts in flashback. They reunite, spark, hang out together, flirt a little. Great chemistry between MR & MB. Her fiance, Mark, is introduced via flashback as someone who was a bit of bully in high school. But the first sign the film isn't going to follow the usual path is that when we meet grown-up Mark, it gradually dawns that he's not a bad guy.
When Jim goes to see Laurie on her wedding day, she's crying. The usual trope would be: she doesn't want to get married any more and chooses to run away with Jim. Instead, Laurie's worried that her fiance hasn't arrived yet. Jim's character sorts it out for her - and then he stands alone, watching as his first love get married.
What I liked about this is, it validates that Laurie hasn't been spinning her wheels for years, waiting for Jim to come back. She built a life and she likes her life. She didn't pick some loser to marry; she picked the right guy. She's happy to see Jim but she hasn't been pining for him. It's rare to have "the girl" in a male-written RomCom be capable and sensible, requiring absolutely no rescuing. But she's also pleased to have Jim back in her life. "OF COURSE, I still have feelings for you. You were my first love, and my friend for 15 years." Morena is perfect in the role. Laurie's girlfriends who scold Jim for disrupting the wedding plans aren't portrayed as shrews; they're sensible too.
The small town (Michael's actual hometown) isn't romanticized. One character tells Jim: "We aren't like you. We have to wake up early on a Monday." Another chides him for leading her husband astray. "We don't have the money for you to be taking him out every night."
There's also a bit of sharp commentary between two characters about what it feels like to have peaked in high school. I always thought that sounded a horrific fate: high school was the training wheel years. The good stuff comes afterwards.
There's a fair bit of bathroom humour, some of which I laughed at, some not. One character, the psychotic high school principal, totally misfires (though the actor certainly gives it his all) and there is some nudity (mostly from Michael, hurray!) It's a well-paced movie, no scene drags on. But what mostly impressed me was Michael's lack of vanity in how he wrote his own role and his skill at writing women. Will be very interested to see what he writes next.