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
Only real men can admit to liking Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion.
It got 2! It’s meh.
I don’t dislike it, but I can really see the appeal for women. Not so much for the likes of us.
My memory of it, I’d give it 2.5. So not a huge difference from your rating.
I had it at 2.5-3 in memory.
Then when I was watching, I sat through the first half with all the diet jokes, and sitting round eating sweets in their pyjamas and shit and wondered what the hell I was thinking of. The second half is so much better, though, which dragged it up to 2.
I enjoyed this back when it came out. Haven’t seen it since. Maybe I’ll keep it that way.
Thought both leads were good, and liked Garofolo and whatshisname English guy who played the nerd. Didn’t like the dream sequence though. Felt like that was from another film.
Hate Alan Cummings.
He’s OK though.
The Dream Sequence works in the context of the film, and what a bubblehead Michelle is. I didn’t like it first time round, but it fit better this time- particularly given the humiliation was following. Actually, I thought the humiliation felt like it was from a different film, it’s so cruel from Garofolo, and the movie is so light and fluffy, that it caught me by surprise how mean it was.
The Last Supper IMO opinion doesn’t really hold up.
Maybe not a great movie but better than your last four. Nice review nevertheless.
I loved The Last Supper when I saw it in the Cinema. Thought it was brilliant. Worried about this, as I haven’t seen it in 10 years.
The guy went on to make Dead Man’s Curve (also a good film) then vanished.
I barely remember Last Supper, but remember thinking it was okay. It was very stage play-like. (Can I assume it was based on a play?)
Was Dead Man’s Curve the one with Lillard?
I worked on The Curve aka Dead Man’s Curve. Small part in post.
That film is one of the worst blown deals in Sundance history. Fucking executive producer fucked it up.
Yes. Lillard’s best performance, Varten is good in it too.
It’s a good film.
TLS is very play like, true.
What did he do?
Long story short because im in bed using my iPhone:
After the first screening at Sundance there was a lot of buzz and offers for a couple million dollars from a couple of studios. Then John Pierson offered to rep it for 25% of any deal.
The EP says fuck that. He’s going to negotiate, expecting a bidding war. He decides to let them keep fighting as the offers keep going up.
Of course he waited too long because than the critics saw it and gave it mediocre reviews. Now all the air and buzz left it and the studios pulled their offer…
Which caused the foreign investors to panic and sell the foreign rights (which they controlled, another mistake by the EP). Now studio wants to buy a film if they can’t get US & foreign distribution, so all the offers dried up. In the end it went direct to video instead of going theatrical. The film barely broke even instead of being a big return for the investment.
All because the EP got cocky and arrogant and refused to except he didn’t know anything about negotiating sales of an independent movie.
It’s a good film, and deserved better.
This one i never saw, but your review sounds about right. Agree about Sorvino, shoulda had a bigger run.
This is an impressive review; I probably would’ve crumbled and turned to sarcasm but you’ve approached the film sensibly and professionally – which is what I should’ve done for my 1995 entry… Well done.
Nevertheless, I’m not re-watching this one.