I Want You Back Review

I Want You Back
When Peter (Charlie Day) and Emma (Jenny Slate) are left for other partners, they form a pact to break up the new relationships, so they can get back together with their exes. 

by John Nugent |
Published on
Release Date:

11 Feb 2022

Original Title:

I Want You Back

This is a break-up romcom, in the Forgetting Sarah Marshall vein: one that trades primarily in the end of relationships, rather than beginnings. As a result, it’s more gently and occasionally funny than a laugh-out-loud riot. In places it’s even a bit of a bummer. The first half-hour, in which Peter (Charlie Day) and Emma (Jenny Slate) suddenly reckon with unexpected single life, is loaded with ugly-crying and snot-heavy acting.

In the grand romcom tradition, an unlikely meet-cute thus materialises, this one on an office staircase, where our two heroes — wiping away tears in the aftermath of their splits — find comfort and solidarity in each other’s misery. Out of this consolatory friendship, a plan is hatched: why don’t they team up to help each other win back their respective ex’s affections?

I Want You Back

So the ‘Sadness Sisters’ are born. It’s a high-concept comedy premise that bears a curious resemblance to Charlie Day’s previous big-screen outing Horrible Bosses, which was all about killing someone else’s manager, rather than someone else’s relationship. But it’s ultimately a two-hander, resting on the chemistry and charisma of the two leads.

Day and Slate have proven comedic chops, but until now are perhaps best known for playing loud, enjoyably obnoxious sitcom characters (he in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, she in Parks And Recreation). Interestingly, their characters here are more muted than we’ve seen them before. It’s not short on silliness — Day jumps into a hot tub from a first-storey building in one key scene — but the film seems as interested in late-thirties/early-forties ennui as the mechanics of a relationship fallout.

That’s not to say this is a serious, profound essay on relationships in the Noah Baumbach mould — it’s lighter and broader than that. But for all the wacky screwball-comedy scenarios, it’s the kindness the characters show each other that feels most interesting and unusual. There’s real, earnest vulnerability from these individuals (“I miss you so much my body hurts,” Day’s character admits at one point), and a thoughtful examination of what a healthy relationship looks like. The romcom dynamics are still faithfully observed — when it comes to who gets together at the end, expect the very much expected — but these are surprisingly likeable characters to spend some time with.

It’s not trying to reinvent the romcom wheel, and its final bow could be predicted by anyone with half a brain — but I Want You Back is sweeter and more sensitive than you might expect from this kind of broad mainstream romp.
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