When it comes to romantic comedies, chemistry almost always matters more than originality. It didn’t matter if Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan were online penpals, traveling across the country to see each other, or threatening to jump into a volcano, what matters was that these two were together, charming the pants off the audience. I Want You Back, the new rom-com from Big Time Adolescence director Jason Orley and written by This Is Us co-showrunners Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger doesn’t reinvent the wheel, as the film clearly owes a debt to films like Addicted to Love and My Best Friend’s Wedding, but relies on an excellent cast to create an endearing rom-com that makes the old feel new again.
Leading I Want You Back are Charlie Day as Peter, who was recently left by his girlfriend of six years, Anne (Gina Rodriguez), and Jenny Slate as Emma, who has been left by Noah (Scott Eastwood), her boyfriend of 18 months. Peter and Emma are both distraught from their failed relationships, and accidentally meet in a stairwell while crying over their former partners. Bonding over their shared sorrows, the pair decide to team up and win back their exes by trying to ruin their new relationships.
We’ve all seen this movie before, and we all know where this is heading, yet Day and Slate are so much fun together that it is easy to get lost in the journey, even though it’s clear where the destination will take us. Calling themselves the “sadness sisters,” some of the best scenes in I Want You Back have these two wallowing in their own misery, plotting how to break up their exes’ new relationships, or drunkenly singing Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” at karaoke. Having Day and Slate play off each other is so wonderful, it’s a shame that the film ends up splitting this duo up for most of the movie.
Peter attempts to sabotage Noah’s new relationship by becoming his friend and convincing him to break it off. Meanwhile, Emma attempts to get closer to Anne’s new boyfriend Logan (Manny Jacinto), who is putting on a middle-school version of “Little Shop of Horrors.” Emma infiltrates this production, despite the creepiness of her helping out, even though she doesn’t have a kid at the school.
Day gets the short end of the stick with Peter’s mission, as Eastwood is certainly sold as Noah, and creates a fun friendship dynamic with Peter, but he just can’t match what Slate has to work with. With Emma’s mission, Slate not only has two sitcom veterans to work with, thanks to Rodriguez and a hilariously awkward Jacinto, but she also gets more comedic opportunities, thanks to a more over-the-top storyline, that includes a fantastic musical performance. Peter’s story gets some surprising cameos, and some great Day material, but it puts off the balance of the film, and again, takes away from the Peter-Emma relationship that makes I Want You Back shine.
Yet even though I Want You Back is never quite as good when it doesn’t focus on Day and Slate together, I Want You Back still remains endearing throughout and consistently laugh-out-loud funny. I Want You Back manages this while also telling a strong story about how breakups—even the most difficult ones—can be essential to growth, becoming a better person, and finding something more fitting for your life, despite how hard it might be to move forward. Aptaker and Berger’s screenplay shows how not only Peter and Emma, but everyone in this story is evolving thanks to moving on beyond this relationship. Even though we might want what we had and lost before, sometimes the only way to grow is to learn from the mistakes of the past and move forward.
I Want You Back largely relies on the overwhelming charm of its tremendous cast, and in particular, the magnificent dynamic between Slate and Day, but that’s all I Want You Back really needs. I Want You Back is full of the usual rom-com tropes, but that truly doesn’t matter when the characters and relationships on display are as winning as they are here.
I Want You Back comes to Prime Video on February 11.