A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 111 – Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion – June 19th, 2010

I mentioned yesterday that we had a special event this weekend and this is it. It is Andy’s high school reunion this weekend. The thing is, we’re not really reunion people, so we’re not at it. Instead we’re watching reunion movies tonight and tomorrow. Personally, I think this is a fantastic option. Tonight’s is far more ridiculous than tomorrow’s. It’s more ridiculous than many movies, really. It’s a caricature of high school and reunions that makes everything at the same time cartoonishly horrible and silly, then puts it in a somewhat idealized perspective.

“I bet in high school everybody made somebody’s life hell.” So says one of the titular leads of the movie, Michele, at the also titular high school reunion. Given how little Romy and Michele tend to think of anything outside their own little bubble, that’s a huge realization. It’s not a bad one to come to anyhow, but it’s a eureka moment for the two ladies at the center of the movie.

Romy and Michele (played to perfection by Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow, respectively), two cute-but-clueless gals who’ve been best friends forever get invited to their ten year high school reunion. Romy, realizing that saying they’re two single women living together, only one of whom is employed and that’s as a cashier at a car dealership, decides they need to have better, more impressive lives. When efforts at actually doing that fail miserably they decide to lie. Why not, right? Who’d know? Their high school is back in Tucson and they’ve been in LA and they could claim to be successful business women and it would totally work. Obviously it doesn’t but that’s kind of to be expected, right? And in the end it doesn’t matter. They’re not impressive to the people they wanted to impress, but they’re still themselves and that’s important.

The movie takes them from LA, through their quest for boyfriends and better jobs (and their abandonment of said quest), and then on to Tucson and to the reunion. With lots of bizarre little stops and flashbacks and dream sequences along the way. Which is what makes it more than just the two of them going to their reunion. Through flashbacks to high school we get to see how oblivious to how unpopular they are because they have each other, fixating on the “A Crew” of cheerleaders and football players while also being oblivious to the attention from members of the “C Crew” of geeks and brains (Janeane Garofalo as the acerbic Heather, Camryn Manheim as the eager Toby and Alan Cumming as the geeky Sandy). The major difference between them and the popular girls is that while the popular girls go out of their ways to be nasty to the peons beneath them, Romy and Michele are just clueless. For such a silly movie, it’s got a point. Teenagers are self-absorbed at the best of times. I know I was. It’s part of that whole “figuring out who you are” thing that one is supposed to do in one’s teen years. But in with all that comes the danger of losing track of the people around you.

Plenty of the movie takes place far before they even get to the reunion. There’s the flashbacks to high school, full of ‘80s fashion and high school interactions between Romy and Michele and the cheerleaders and the geeks. There’s the bits where they’re working out, or trying to date or interview for jobs. And there’s a lot that shows that they’re just best friends. There for each other even when they drive each other up the wall. And as the beginning takes us back and forth from the present to the past over and over, through the yearbook they’re looking at, we realize that for Romy and Michele, high school never ended. They graduated and went to LA like they said they would, but they didn’t change much. And really, do they need to?

It’s a tricky question for a movie that seems so superficial at first. With the valley girl affectations and the upbeat cluelessness of Romy and Michele one might think it’s all just fun. And don’t get me wrong. It is fun. But it’s carefully hidden cleverness in the quips and snark and fashion and flashbacks and impromptu contemporary three-person dance routine. After all, Romy and Michele, for all that their lives aren’t as glamorous and fabulous as they end up pretending, are enjoying themselves. They make themselves more miserable trying to pretend than they were to begin with. Romy’s the one who decides they need to change and all because she’s clinging to this idea that they need to impress people. That the mean girls in high school still mean something. But then, she does need to change. She needs to get over that whole high school thing.

They both change at the end, with Michele’s line above. They change enough to realize that they can be themselves still without holding on to all the baggage high school sends you off with. They confront the mean girls, who’re also clinging to a lot of high school crap (except one, who’s let go and moved on), share a dance with Sandy (the aforementioned contemporary, set to Time After Time, by Cyndi Lauper, and man, I’d love to see that recreated on So You Think You Can Dance), talk things out with Heather and Toby, and end up with a happily ever after that suits them perfectly, leaving them perkily folding scarves and still the best of friends.

June 19, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion

June, 19, 2010

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion

I’m avoiding my twentieth high school reunion today. But I’m acknowledging its existence by viewing a couple high school reunion movies. First up is this movie, which I have never actually seen before. And now, having watched it, I kind of regret not seeing it earlier. It’s such a fun, strange, and amusing piece of light hearted silliness.

It’s the tale of two slightly under-achieving girls who thought they were living their dream sharing an apartment in L.A. and clubbing and generally being BFFs, but when faced with the prospect of their tenth high school reunion they begin to think that maybe they should have done more with their lives. Romy is working as a receptionist at a Jaguar dealership, and Michelle is currently unemployed. And although they’re pretty sure they’re not lesbians they’re still the cutest couple you have ever seen. But they have no boyfriends and their financial success is not really all that impressive. All they really have is their unshakable friendship with each other. So they come up with a scheme to masquerade as successful business women (and inventors.) It goes about as well as you might think that it would.

One thing that struck me from the very beginning of the movie is that it’s technically really astonishing. You know the impossible shot in The 39 Steps where the camera moves in in a huge long tracking shot across a valley onto a mountain road and into a car window? This movie opens with a similar shot, and it completely baffled me. There’s this huge wide shot of a beach and the camera pushes in, over the beach, and up to Romy and Michele’s window and right through the curtains into their living room. Sure there’s a cut as it goes through the curtains, but how on Earth did they get the camera right up to the window like that? I can only imagine that they had some kind of wire rig and dropped the camera down from a helicopter or something and did the whole shot as it ran down a cable that was anchored over the window. Okay – I’m getting needlessly technical, but my point is this: I’m watching a silly movie about air headed friends who are going to a high school reunion, and it has a directorial flare and style I’d expect from Hitchcock. Somebody gave David Mirkin a budget and let him cut loose, and it shows.

So right there you know there’s something different to this movie. The other astonishing thing is the performances of Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino. Kudrow does this thing with Romy’s voice and inflection whenever her character is trying to impress somebody that’s so cool and kind of painful to watch at the same time. And Sorvino, with Michele’s blank stares and irrepressible perkiness, is just so much fun to root for. They have a lot riding on them in this movie, since probably half of the film is just the two of them talking to each other. Luckily their chemistry clicks perfectly and it’s just plain fun to hang out with the two of them. You can’t help wanting things to go well for them, it’s like watching kittens or puppies playing.

Added bonus: Alan Cumming as the painfully nerdy Sandy Frink and Janeane Garofalo as… the same great angry character she pretty much always plays. Both of them are a joy to watch as well.

I love the way the movie is crafted in terms of pacing and editing as well. It uses a great gimmick to introduce all the characters. The first act of the film is Romy and Michelle reminiscing about high school and leafing through their old year book, and these scenes introduce a series of flashbacks (that all start or end with the yearbook photos) that establish the extended cast. We meet Romy’s unrequited and hunky high school crush, the boy who has an unrequited crush on Michele, the foursome of girls who made life hell for both Romy and Michele, the dark and angry girl who wants no part of anybody… It’s your whole usual panoply of high school clicks and painful awkward teen-aged memories. (I also quite enjoy the way that the actors all portray their teen-aged characters. Most especially Alan Cumming, who transforms himself into an awkward and painfully shy teen-aged boy… it’s astonishing.)

The whole movie is about wish fulfilment and flights of fancy, really. It’s got a wonderfully bizarre fantasy feel to it. I don’t want to spoil it for people who haven’t watched it, but I will say that it reaches new heights in surreal weirdness about three quarters of the way through, and then comes down to earth for a while, but then delights by spiraling off into strangeness once again as it reaches its delirious conclusion.

I loved watching this tonight, and I know I’m going to watch this movie again, and soon. Because it’s an awful lot more fun than actually attending a real reunion.

June 19, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments