REVIEW: Execrable You Again Tests the 5 Stages of Moviegoer Grief
Infinitely worse than you dared to hope it wouldn't be, You Again dumbfounded and then defeated me. That's a pretty limited spectrum of response, and yet I left the film feeling like I'd just crossed the Gobe with four actresses on my back. The shock is still too great to talk about the fifth -- Betty White -- except to say that, although like the rest of the free world I am glad that she's back in heavy rotation, someone needs to lay down the rules of fair use, and penalties must be called when she is deployed to such pitiable effect.
There are perhaps only four stages of grief involved in watching this kind of shrieking, meretricious dreck, beginning with the necessary folly of the film critic: Denial. You Again has an enviable cast, after all, led by Kristen Bell as Marni, who radiates the kind of pragmatic savvy you might imagine would keep her away from films like this one. Marni was a goober in high school, as the opening flashback sequence makes unimaginatively clear. Marni is openly tormented by an alpha hose beast named J.J. (Odette Yustman, an elongated, adobe version of Megan Fox) while suffering through acne, braces, and shampoo-starved hair. Bell is such a game comedienne, and so fully committed to her inner nerdlinger, that it seems possible she alone might make the film worth watching.
Marni grew up blonde and beautiful, of course. Driven to defeat the self-doubt fostered during her adolescence, she pursued a career in PR and now dresses well and makes lots of money. She returns home for her brother's wedding on top of the world, only to discover that the woman he is marrying is none other than J.J. (now Joanna). After the death of her parents, Joanna claims to have started on a path of charity and self-sacrifice, though she won't offer up even a hint of recognition when she sees Marni. Marni's mother Gail (Jamie Lee Curtis) brushes the old rivalry aside until she meets Joanna's rich, affected Aunt Ramona (Sigourney Weaver), her former BFF. The high school rivalry between Ramona and Gail is sketchy and remains that way, although their passive-aggressive pre-wedding competition screeches right off the screen.
Hence, the second stage: Anger. Why are writer Moe Jelline and director Andy Fickman (whose rap sheet includes the similarly nuanced play on gender stereotypes She's The Man) not only wasting but flat out embarrassing these grown women with Nick-at-Nite pap? Is this what women who can be funny are reduced to on the big screen? Some lowlights: Betty White handing over her dentures and making insipid double entendres; Kristen Bell covered in mud, ant bites, and finally pea soup; Jamie Lee Curtis humiliated by a dousing of water; Sigourney Weaver vamping around like a lonely, ostentatiously multilingual spinster who chose her career and was punished accordingly. The four central characters place their self-worth squarely on their looks, so that when the ant bite incident (which follows a bang-cutting incident) leaves Marni looking spotty, awkwardly coiffed, and back in her 10th grade glasses, she regresses fully. Women, you see, are only what they are perceived to be, and their identities and moral rectitude can be controlled entirely by circumstance.
I tried to bargain with this movie, I really did, although admittedly that constituted perhaps the briefest phase. Bell and Curtis in particular are so appealing that it takes a heroic effort for them to blow their stores of goodwill. I seized on every flicker of interest in the difficulties of reconciling who you were with whom you want to be. There is also still much to be said and done on film around the vagaries of female relationships, and in particular Marni's resentment toward Joanna as an interloper in her family could have amounted to more than wedding sabotage and a climactic catfight (that is, sadly, doubled by the older but not wiser generation of ladies). The copious gags are bluntly horrifying, and the disingenuous, therapized language of confrontation and reconciliation between the women would be insulting if it didn't numb my senses into a sort of suspended function.
You know who gets numb like that? Depressed people. And depressed is how I left You Again, having reckoned with the fact that nobody forced Kristen Bell to utter the fighting words, "Ooh, kitty likes to scratch." Nobody -- I presume, though it would certainly clarify things -- threatened the actresses with the exposure of upskirt photos lest they sit through several scenes in which they were to be drubbed and berated by the men in their life like stupid little girls. No, as hard as it is to believe, admirable, capable actresses were willing participants in the creation of a hateful, boneheaded, bar-lowering exercise in one of the lowest forms of female profiling, and -- with apologies to Kubler-Ross completists -- for that there is no possibility of acceptance. I'd kind of rather die.