Jarv’s Birthday Series Redux: Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion (1997)
This is a tough one. I vaguely remember seeing it in 1997, or possibly 98, but I also vaguely remember liking it. Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion (22nd August in the UK) is, as I recall, a light and likeable little film, albeit one that flirts with being a chick-flick and in the days of gross out comedy was a gentle and undemanding look at two women that really epitomise blonde jokes. Looking at it now that I’m in my thirties and way past the 10 year anniversary, I wasn’t expecting miracles, just something dramatically better than my recent run.
Contains airheads and spoilers below.
Maybe it just fit into nostalgia for a certain time, I mean I’d been graduated from school for precisely one year, and so the film might just have fit in to a certain time and a certain place for me. It’s not, as noted, a demanding effort, and there is a certain nostalgia value to it for me, but I honestly think I must have totally overrated it at the time. I can’t think of any reason otherwise for me looking forward to putting it on again, because as a cynical old git, this kind of thing is so far from my usual cinema choices that I would watch now.
Based on the play by Robin Schiff (I’m astonished to find that out), and directed by David Mirkin (incidentally, I think a mirkin is a pubic wig), Romy and Michelle tells the story of two Best Friends Forever that had a frankly miserable time at high school, but now live in LA and party as they want to. Called back for their 10 year high school reunion, the girls believe that their lives are frankly not impressive enough so make up an elaborate lie. The inevitable happens and the deceit is revealed before an astonishingly contrived happy ending is thrown into the mix.
This really should be a lot better than it is. Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow play the titular bubbleheads Romy and Michelle respectively, and they’re a pair of gifted comic actresses. Unfortunately, his was made at the height of the Friends feeding frenzy, and I can’t help but think Kudrow is recycling her Phoebe performance. Sorvino, in the meantime, is a long way from her Oscar-winning turn in Mighty Aphrodite. It’s a bit of a shame, actually, that Sorvino never went on to anything else, because she’s got an easy charm, and although Romy is the more difficult of the two roles (Kudrow can play this kind of quirky airhead in her sleep) that carries the film a long way.
This is quite a clever little film. It interlaces flashbacks of them being bullied at school (an amusingly spiteful turn by Julia Campbell) with the events in the present. While it’s clear that their lives haven’t amounted to anything much, it’s also clear that there’s a lot of affection between the two women and they have a huge amount of fun. The second half of the film is split into basically three: there’s a lengthy dream sequence with the perfect high school reunion for the pair of them, then the horrible and humiliating reality, then the fluffy and idealised rescue. Janeane Garofolo provides some much needed acidity, but the script has kept it’s powder dry, and although the ending may be overly happy, what leads up to it isn’t.
What I mean by this is that the message of Romy and Michelle is twofold: firstly, everyone treats someone like shit in high school. Romy and Michelle were picked on by the “A” clique, horribly picked on actually, although Michelle is oblivious. In the meantime, they unintentionally treat Heather (Garofolo) like absolute dirt, as does the only other smoker in Tucson, incidentally. Heather, in the meantime, kicks down and treats the fat girl like absolute dirt. What was surprising about this, though, is that it’s only those at the top that are intentionally vile. Romy and Michelle and below are oblivious, totally unaware of the pain they are causing others.
In contrast, the second part of the message is twofold: firstly, and predictably, the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence. Romy’s frantic overcompensation leads to the girl’s humiliation and the film only lets them off the hook when they reveal themselves as who they really are. Coupled with this is that those that they idolised have almost all made a right dogs mess of their life, with queen bitch Christy living a hellish existence that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. It’s also, according to Mrs. Jarv, a far too common occurrence for the homecoming queen/ head cheerleader type that she clearly represents. This sharpness works brilliantly with the gentle lightness of Romy and Michelle. Sure they’re stupid, but they’re happy and that’s more than you can say for most at the reunion.
I’m not meaning to sound all po-faced about this, because the film is very easy watching. Unfortunately, the first half (bar a few exceptions) doesn’t have a lot in the way of laughs. Sorvino’s delivery of the “my shoe has filled with blood line” did make me laugh, but it was the first for a while. Whereas in the second half it’s far more amusing. You won’t laugh out loud very often, but the easy charm of the film means that it passes with a pleasant smile and a few chuckles.
This is another light and breezy comedy, a film that, while deeper than it pretends to be, isn’t the most savage of satires. There is a point to Romy and Michelle, and it hides it ably under layers of froth, but it’s not a mean spirited point. We’re not meant to laugh at these two simple girls, in fact we’re supposed to like them, and in that regard the film succeeds in spades. These aren’t vicious women, Michelle in particular hasn’t a bitter bone in her body, and as such we just relax in their company and let them take us along for the ride.
Overall, I didn’t like this anywhere near as much as I liked it first time round. Perhaps I’m too old now, but more likely I’m too male. Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion is a film for women to sit in pyjamas and eat chocolate in front of (probably while bitching that all men are bastards) and really, that’s not for me. The second half, where the film is notably sharper and less fluffy is hugely better, and the improvement really is marked. I think this is a film that could have done with being a bit more savage, a bit tougher, and a bit more bitter. Nevertheless, it did pass the time without any pain, and I did find myself reasonably well amused. Certainly not hateful, I give Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion 2 Barbie Dolls out of a possible 4.
Next up is The Last Supper, a film I really, really liked at the time. I hope this one holds up a bit better.
The Full List for the Birthday Series Redux:
- 2011- The Skin I Live In (2.5 out of 4)
- 2010- The Last Exorcism (2.5 out of 4)
- 2009- Post Grad (1 out of 4)
- 2008- The House Bunny (1 out of 4)
- 2007- Knocked Up (1 out of 4)
- 2006- Volver (1 out of 4)
- 2005- Red Eye (2 out of 4)
- 2004- Dead Clowns (Orangutan of Doom)
- 2003- Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (1 out of 4)
- 2002- Talk to Her (4 out of 4)
- 2001- Jeepers Creepers (2 out of 4)
- 2000- Gossip (1 out of 4)
- 1999- All About My Mother (1 out of 4)
- 1998- The X-Files (1 out of 4)
- 1997- Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion (2 out of 4)
- 1996- The Last Supper
- 1995- The Usual Suspects
- 1994- The Color of Night
- 1993- Surf Ninjas
- 1992- The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag
- 1991- Pump Up the Volume
- 1990- Wild at Heart
- 1989- Bull Durham
- 1988- Crossing Delancey
- 1987- The Big Easy
- 1986- Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
- 1985- Better off Dead
- 1984- Oxford Blues
- 1983- MetalStorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn
- 1982- The Thing
- 1981- Honky Tonk Freeway
- 1980- Schock
- 1979- Rich Kids
- 1978- Coma