Biweekly Binge: Bringing rom-com back
A fortnightly column on what’s good in the vast ocean of content in the streaming platforms around you, and this week, it's I Want You Back
In Jason Orley’s new rom-com I Want You Back (streaming on Amazon Prime), there is more than just the sum of those two parts - romance and comedy. Peter (Charlie Day in a very Charlie Day role) and Emma (Jenny Slate) are dumped by their respective partners for seemingly flimsy reasons. Emma’s boyfriend Noah (Scott Eastwood) feels that Emma, at 32, is glued to her daily rigmarole of a receptionist job, rooming with two law students, and has no real future in sight. And Anne (Gina Rodriguez) thinks of Peter much the same way, only that Peter has trapped her into that state of running on a treadmill which has held her from chasing her dreams of becoming an artist and touring the world to satiate her eclectic tastes. For both Emma and Peter, the axe falls on their head out of nowhere, rather than slicing straight through, it leaves a messy injured soul that they have to tend for themselves in excruciating pain.
Of course, it is a rom-com, so they do meet by accident when they cry their hearts out in the stairway of the building their offices share. They strike up an instant friendship and become each other’s therapists and trusted safe spaces. Day’s bumbling, caught with his hands in a cookie jar look gels wonderfully with Slate’s awkward adult who had to put a brake on her life due to her father’s terminal illness. She cannot jump-start her life and Peter has given up on his dreams. I Want You Back, written by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, is about thoroughly nice people caught in a situation meant for far messier people than them. That’s where the charm lies in this one, as Peter and Emma go through a cycle of out of character routines to break their ex’s current love lives. Through this journey, they find both redemption and a purpose including the realization that this is not who they are, and predictably, nor were their past relationships the perfect embodiment of the future they believed to be.
The best part about I Want You Back is that it doesn’t forget that it is a comedy, not even for a minute. Its lines flow effortlessly, and Slate’s and Day’s performances impart a lightness even to the seemingly weighty scenes. In addition to the appropriate jokes, the film throws in a darker joke from time to time to keep things always interesting. The film doesn’t go for rom-com staples like very public recourse tying all the plots neatly or focus too much on the purity of eternal love or any of that crap reserved for lesser comedies. But its biggest winner is in the characterization. Both Emma and Peter get well-rounded arcs from their childhood up till their present-day life. Their conversations don’t always revolve around Noah and Anne. Sometimes it's about their parents, sometimes it is about their work. It's about their childhood and the dreams they had for their grown-up versions. Emma even strikes up a friendship with a middle schooler having trouble reconciling with his parents’ troubled relationship. I Want You Back rounds off more than just a love track and a comedy track, it gives us a gentle story with superlative performances and doesn’t guilt-trip us into liking it. We like it for Emma and Peter. Even if they are going to remain only buddies all their lives.