Sunday, May 11, 2014

High School Never Ends

Year: 1997
Director: David Mirkin
Cast: Lisa Kudrow, Mira Sorvino, Janeane Garofalo
Run Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

It's only fitting that I cap off my week of Friends tributes with hands-down the best film Lisa Kudrow ever starred in. I would even go so far as to say that Romy and Michele's High School Reunion is even the best comedy of the 90's if I thought anybody would agree with me. 

Aw, screw it. Romy and Michele's High School Reunion is the best darn comedy film of the 90's.

And it definitely couldn't be from any other decade.

Romy (Mira Sorvino) and Michele (Lisa Kudrow) are living the life. They have a lovely apartment in LA where they can rewatch Pretty Woman as many times as they like, they create their own unique clothing designs, and they have been best friends since high school. But when they're invited to their 10 Year High School Reunion, they are forced to look at their lives and find them wanting. After all, neither of them have boyfriends or careers. And they could stand to lose a little weight (this was the 90's, the only decade in which anybody could reasonably believe that Kudrow or Sorvino needed to lose a little weight).

After feverishly working out for two weeks, they embark on their road trip back to Tucson armed with fancy businesswoman suits and a lie about inventing Post-It Notes, all set to blow the socks off of their old high school classmates, especially the titanic foursome that ruled the halls with an iron fist. They were the Plastics before the Plastics, led by Queen Bee Christy Masters (Julia Campbell).

You see, they weren't exactly the coolest kids in school.

Based on a play by Robin Schiff, the film has an incredibly simple storyline that allows for the humor to grow naturally out of the interactions between Romy and Michele as well as those between them and the world. There is no high stakes conflict whatsoever. Sure there are quite a few wrenches thrown into their plan and Romy and Michele briefly split up during a fight, but the movie has no intentions of ever truly allowing harm to befall these poor girls.

The tradeoff here is that the comedy is constantly bubbling over the edges of the film as Romy and Michele's quip their way through increasingly absurd scenarios as they struggle to maintain the image they have created for themselves accompanied with a layer of classic 80's pop tunes as thick as the 16-pound heels they wear to the gym.

The soundtrack is superb (opening with No Doubt's Just A Girl and never slowing down as it blows past one hit after another), the supporting cast is unrealistically terrific (standouts are Alan Cumming as lovesick nerd turned billionaire, Jeanane Garofalo as a surly outsider, and Camryn Manheim as a living caricature of the abstract concept of School Spirit), and the humor escalates way too far to be contained within a fragile human body. The absurdity and hilarity increase one's internal pressure to such a degree that it can only be released with explosive guffaws.

This isn't even the funniest image in the film. I KNOW.

In addition to being just darn laugh out loud enjoyable (with a grand finale that comes out of nowhere like a sledgehammer to your funny bone - I shan't spoil it here), Romy and Michele tackles a variety of topics relevant to high school graduates everywhere. The two friends struggle through boyfriends, job hunts, dieting, and trying to outlive high school trauma.

These topics are funny and lighthearted, but there's also an undercurrent of deep feeling and meaning beneath the entire storyline, probably left over from the script's days as a play. The medium of film is certainly capable of subtle thematic resonance, but it's not exactly a touchstone of the Hollywood comedy, so it's just another reason that Romy and Michele rises above the rest.

Tucked within all the fun and high school intrigue is a sober look at the state of society and the facades put up to impress others. You see, Romy and Michele aren't the only ones carrying a lie to their high school reunion. People use the trappings of class - wedding rings, salaries, and nice cars - to disguise the fact that their lives are just as much a shambles as the two losers they seek to mock.

Romy and Michele's High School Reunion is all about the hazards of judging oneself by other people's standards rather than your own, something that nearly drives the two friends apart throughout the course of the film. And above all it is about the importance of female friendship, a topic that even 17 years later is shockingly rare in popular comedies.

Studios should learn that some people would always rather watch Lisa and Mira look through their yearbook than see Ryan Reynolds piece his way through yet another cardboard romcom.

The film and its deeper themes are entirely reliant on the chemistry between its title characters, something Kudrow and Sorvino provide in spades. Kudrow's performance can't quite separate itself from the bundle of quirks that is Phoebe Buffay, but her masterful physicality can incite laughter with a single twitch of the lip. And Sorvino wows as the deadpan Romy, using an affectation that's nigh on impossible to place.

It's somewhere in the neighborhood of Valley Girl. Or at least it's on the same paper route. But it has a magically strange quality utterly perfect for the character, someone who has never really found a place for herself in the world as it stands.

This film is so dead perfect (in the goofiest register possible; it isn't exactly a triumph of visual cinema) that I only have one single complaint to lodge against it - an dream sequence is extended far too long. Other than that, nothing. Watch this movie. Goodness knows not enough people have.

TL;DR: Romy and Michele's High School Reunion is a touchstone of the 90's - a lighthearted and deliriously goofy comedy about the value of female friendship.
Rating: 10/10
Word Count: 1020

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