‘I Want You Back’: Day and Slate are heartbroken troublemakers in this light, likable rom-com

“I Want You Back” (2022) – Have you ever been dumped?  Everyone has at one point.  Wait, everyone?  Okay, Gisele Bundchen probably has avoided that particular emotional turmoil, but for mere mortals, it’s an unfortunate “wrong” of passage for anyone putting themselves “out there” in the dating world. 

Director Jason Orley’s rom-com “I Want You Back” squarely focuses on two specific dumpees, Emma (Jenny Slate) and Peter (Charlie Day).  About seven minutes into his film, Orley features a montage of our heroes with Jimmy Durante’s “The Glory of Love” playing in the background.

“You’ve got to win a little, lose a little.  And always have the blues a little.  That’s the story of, that’s the glory of love.”   

Durante’s timeless tune certainly applies to Emma and Peter, but only the “lose” and “blues” parts.  These two 30-somethings are heartbroken that their significant others, Noah (Scott Eastwood) and Anne (Gina Rodriguez), have called it quits. 

Emma and Peter may live in Atlanta, but it feels like Splitsville City.  They don’t know one another but will soon meet by chance because they work in the same building and commiserate over their losses.  (Isn’t it always by chance in these movies?)

Peter (Charlie Day) and Anne (Gina Rodriguez)

After a few conversations of misery loves company, both leads opt for deep self-reflection and growth.  Emma purchases Rosetta Stone to learn French, and Peter becomes an animal shelter volunteer.  

Just kidding. 

C’mon.  Emma and Peter both want their significant others back!  So, they work together to break up Noah’s and Anne’s brand-new relationships, so their old flames will sprint back to their broken-hearted selves. Pretty darn devious, but will their Anti-Cupid scheme work? 

Oh, this isn’t a chance meeting.  This is fate!  (Isn’t it always through fate in these movies?)

“I Want You Back” looks and feels like every other rom-com out there.  Everyone resides in comfortable, spacious suburbia and works in picturesque downtown high rises.  Actually, Emma lives with a 20-something couple attending law school, but their condo has all the residential trimmings…except for soundproof walls.

We don’t see our leads working that often because they spend most of their waking hours calculating their next awkward moves towards ruining their exes’ current romances.  After sitting through countless romantic comedies over the last who-knows-how-many years, one might deduce this flick’s eventual ending. 

Will your deductions be accurate?  Well, let’s not give anything away. 

Noah (Scott Eastwood) and Emma (Jenny Slate)

This film feels a bit different because Slate and Day are talented and seasoned comedic actors.  No, this material isn’t terribly challenging, but their comical gifts of gab and physicality-foolishness fit nicely with Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger’s script.  Both actors get chances to shine, including Peter’s daredevil attempt in a stranger’s backyard and Emma’s surreal acting opportunity, and these moments will drive genuine angst and applause.

Meanwhile, Eastwood is awfully likable here as Emma’s ex.  Quite frankly, Noah handles their breakup with class and maturity, and his subsequent relationship with Ginny (Clark Backo) is lovely.  He is no villain, making Emma’s wishes feel childish and shortsighted.  Rodriguez plays Anne as more demanding and detached.  Still, Anne doesn’t want Peter any longer while he figuratively serenades to a second balcony window, one shut with a few nails hammered into the frame for good measure.

So, our love-sick leads should lean on therapists or friends who should help flank their tipsy self-esteem rather than conspire and yearn for well-traveled but also uninvited roads from the past.  Then again, if Emma and Peter took healthy approaches from the get-go, we wouldn’t have a movie. 

Will they learn the err of their aching ways?

Looking back, Orley should’ve wrapped up his film – and Emma’s and Peter’s life lessons – at the 90-minute mark rather than stretch their journeys to 110 minutes.  Still, Slate’s and Day’s charisma and charm help win the “day” over their characters’ sometimes questionable motives and also the familiar sights and sounds of this bubble-gum genre. 

Well, now and then, bubble gum is worth a 110-minute chew, especially for those who have felt that breakup sting. 

That’s all of us…except Gisele.

⭐⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Directed by: Jason Orley

Written by: Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger

Starring: Jenny Slate, Charlie Day, Scott Eastwood, and Gina Rodriguez

Runtime: 111 minutes

Rated: R

Image credits: Amazon Studios

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