Lifestyle, Movies & TV

Cinephilia: Amazon’s ‘I Want You Back’ is a distinctive rom-com surprise

When it comes to the romance-comedy genre of film, or “rom-com” as it is informally known as, it becomes hard to come across a good picture given that they exist in mass. Probably one of the most favored, if not most produced genres, “rom-coms” make us feel good, laugh, cry, but over everything else, they teach us important life lessons. Or at least they should.

Amazon’s newest 2022 feature, “I Want You Back,” starring Charlie Day and Jenny Slate, does exactly that.

"I Want You Back" review
Amazon’s original film “I Want You Back” title screen. With all the qualities of a quintessential “rom-com” evoking emotions and teaching life lessons, Andrew Harwood calls the film “I Want You Back” a success on many levels. BAILEY SHEN/DFP STAFF

Directed by Jason Orley and co-written by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, “I Want You Back” tells the story of Peter, played by Day, and Emma, played by Slate, as two people who were just dumped and are now forging a plot to ruin their exes’ new relationships. But as things progress, Peter and Emma begin to realize that they can’t live in the past nor change the future.

Upfront, the themes of love and obsession are incredibly present, or as a matter of fact, the battle of love versus obsession, where one doesn’t truly know the difference between the two. Such a theme exists strongly between the main characters who are disgruntled after their separate break-ups and wish nothing but unhappiness for their ex, as well as to be back together with them. The depiction of human struggle is incredibly realistic, showing the conflicting thoughts that come with the question — Am I with someone because I love them or because I just have a sole desire to be with someone?

Realism is where “I Want You Back” succeeds rather smartly, specifically in terms of the themes and depiction of finding love out of a personal struggle, but also in regard to the pain and comedy that can come out of it all.

Romance and comedy are intrinsic to life, which makes sense why both elements are heightened in “I Want You Back ” — aside from the given status of the film as a “rom-com.” Again, it truly is very hard to make good romance and comedy films, mainly in part due to clichés but almost always because of poor cast chemistry and poor writing.

To be able to feel the romance of a film, as well as the ensuing comedy, we must find everything believable, so much so that we see it occurring in our own lives. To live vicariously through a film is to properly experience it, and discover what makes a great film.

“I Want You Back” brings both believability and experience to the table, where the viewer feels as if they are a part of the ploys and adventure of Peter and Emma. We feel for them, we laugh with them, we hurt for them, but we understand them. The actual length one person goes for someone else, or the things they endure for them, speaks to the proper feeling of love and, in a strange sense, obsession. The pull between the two, that good and bad, makes for an interesting take on the genre of “rom-coms” solely because of the ability to incite realistic emotion.

As such, the chemistry that comes from the screen heightens emotions, and Slate and Day certainly do great justice to that sensation. Lively, funny, charming but mostly bouncing off each other in playful but at times painful moments, Day and Slate help bring an already good script to further greatness. Words on pages can hold any sort of image or feeling, but with a good cast who bound themselves to the words with a passion that speaks lengths, a great film is the outcome.

As the film progresses, we are no longer interested in the central plot of Day and Slate breaking up their exes with their new partners — that solely serves as the comedic relief.

As we watch, we start to root for them in unison — as one — where they can set aside their obsession and find love, or channel it. Of course it helps to see the likes of a great supporting cast, like Scott Eastwood, to add even more charm to the mix, but with a strong centerfold of two individuals who never dared to imagine a future or spark together, it makes for an even richer story.

Anchored by stellar performances, a clever script and an even more interesting take on love as a want and not as a need, “I Want You Back” succeeds on many levels.


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