Romy and Michele's High School Reunion

There is a scene in Birdman where a theater critic savages a play she hasn't even seen yet out of pure malice. As a part time critic, that scene rankled me a bit. Yes, I've been on the internet, so I'm well aware that ignorant and savage take downs are abundant, but I don't think that the average writer is that irrationally angry about the art they're supposed to be engaging with. Not all criticism is about kicking a puppy.

Of course, there is some puppy-kicking inherent in the form. Take Romy and Michele's High School Reunion for example. It's a sweet movie, and over all I found it to be very charming. A reasonable person would accept it as a pleasant diversion and leave it at that. But if I wrote a completely positive review of this movie... Well, I'd be lying.

The set up has real potential: Romy and Michele are two women who are barely scraping by in L.A. where they work dead end jobs when they have jobs at all. When an invitation to their ten year high school reunion drops into their lap, their first gut reaction is to go. However, the more they think about it, the more it seems like a dubious proposition. In retrospect, their time in high school was more miserable than they initially remembered it, plus they have accomplished so little in the last decade they are afraid they'll be embarrassed by their more successful peers. They don't want to return to their old stomping grounds as outcasts who transformed into losers.

Every adult has to experience a gulf between who they thought they would be and who they actually ended up being. You could very easily make a version of this movie that in addition to being funny was grounded and meaningful. Unfortunately, Romy and Michele's High School Reunion is some pretty high grade Hollywood bullshit. Once the two of them arrive at their reunion they literally blow everyone away - the movie ends with them flying off the school grounds in a helicopter. And then of course a millionaire they meet at the reunion forgives all the years of abuse she suffered at their hands and gives them a Cinderella deal that lets them start the fashion store of their dreams so they can live happily ever after. The end.

You can probably guess this film's shortcomings sight unseen if you're familiar enough with the average studio comedy. Number one on the list: Hollywood only casts gorgeous statue-esque blondes in leading roles, even if the role would be better served by someone who looks more normal. Michele's teenage awkwardness is explained away by giving her scoliosis mandated backbrace, which is fine enough - but I'm not buying Romy's flashbacks to her "chubby" years, because Mira Sorvino is an unbelievably attractive woman and they didn't even bother to add any extra make up to her in the flashbacks. I'm not mad at Sorvino, who has the comic chops for the role, but towards the movie as a whole, which really condescends to actual outcasts. There were multiple scenes where this movie reminded me of the scene in American Splendor where Harvey Pekar yells at his actual nerdy friend for going to see Revenge of the Nerds -  Hollywood wants the nerds' money, but it doesn't want to put them on screen.

Romy and Michele's High School Reunion would also go down easier if it wasn't all heading towards an all too easy moral about how after they graduate outcasts become way cooler and more successful than the cheerleaders who used to call the shots. There are multiple levels where this bothers me. For one, it's pat and predictable. Two, I'm very uncomfortable with the modern self-esteem movement, which promises people that they will achieve everything they set out to do if they just believe in themselves. (Of course, it helps if you know a generous millionaire who will give you start up cash no strings attached.)

Worst of all, I think that moral is actually destructive, because it encourages the thought that the best way to judge your own life is to compare yourself to your peers. Instead of getting to the ball and having a fairy godmother whisk them into the sky, these women needed to accept that their so-so lives in L.A. are actually pretty good, all things considered. After all, as Psych 101 will tell you, neither winning the lottery nor becoming a paraplegic affects your long term happiness - it's less about what happens to you and more how you look at it. At the start of this movie Romy and Michele change how they look at their life - but before that can stick, the movie whisks them away to a fairytale and hides the unpleasant truths behind a curtain again.

I understand that I'm taking a light hearted movie and piling on it a bit more than it probably deserves. A lot of this film's jokes are very witty, and the performances are really sharp - particularly Janeane Garofalo, who plays her snarky character to the hilt as only she could. But I'm not attacking this film out of ignorance or out of spite - I just think that it's charms are surface level, while it's sexist execution and deeper implications are more troubling. I might be a jerk like that critic from Birdman, but at least I'm an informed jerk - I did watch this trifle all the way through before I (semi-irrationally) shat on it for not being a masterpiece.

Winner: Draw

Romy and Michele's High School Reunion on IMDB