Not 'You Again'
Kat Murphy, Special to MSN Movies
So totally, inanely, numbingly awful is the DOA comedy "You Again" that you can actually see A-list performers like Sigourney Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis and Kristin Chenoweth flailing through every scene, working like mad to inject life into characters so frozen in stupid caricatures they barely register as human. Believe me, you feel their pain. Someone named Moe Jelline is credited with the movie's brain-dead script -- his first, and hopefully last, for the big screen -- while hackmeister Andy Fickman ("Race to Witch Mountain," "The Game Plan") presumably stood behind the cameras. From the evidence on the screen, this guy's directorial skills might serve to mount a mediocre high school play.
And high school's the comedic hook on which "You Again" wants to hang: specifically, the horrors practiced on all the "poster girls of the geek squad" by beautiful, bullying cheerleaders/prom queens. Once one of those losers -- sporting braces, zits and specs -- Marni (Kristen Bell) has grown up to be a major hottie. But when our heroine discovers her beloved brother's marrying that very same archnemesis -- and she has metamorphosed into a veritable saint droolingly adored by Marni's family and even her disloyal pooch -- blond Barbie goes all dark side, plotting to expose Joanna as the monster she really is. Ever so neatly bookending this high school revenge drama is the rising tension between Marni's homemaker mom (Curtis) and Joanna's wealthy, cosmopolitan, hotel-exec aunt (Weaver), onetime best buds who fell out big time toward the end of their school days.
Considerable hilarity might have been mined from this material by a deft director. But "You Again" flatlines from the get-go. Every ginned-up interaction telegraphs phoniness, and every scene reeks of dead air, bereft of any dramatic engine, forward motion, or organic connection with what follows. Meanwhile, an irritatingly upbeat score bounces and tinkles with cartoon insistence, ever nagging us to get with the funny.
"Part of the reason I wanted to do this script is because it's so few and far between that you read a really good female-driven comedy," gushes Bell, a longtime friend of Fickman since they worked on "Reefer Madness: A Movie Musical." A graduate of the prestigious Tisch School of the Arts and once TV's much-praised "Veronica Mars," Bell has either sold out or been lobotomized.
"You Again" does indeed feature females, but they're grotesque, genderless, unsympathetic stereotypes forced into antics that are both asinine and infantile. What a monumental, verging on misogynist, trashing of talent! Leaving Barbies Bell and Yustman aside, you'd think that actresses like Weaver ("Alien," "Avatar") and Curtis ("A Fish Called Wanda") might go at each other with some wit and style. Fuggedaboutit. Like everyone else in the movie, they are reduced to mugging and screeching like banshees. So relentless are their cartoon grimacing and exaggerated double takes -- Fickman cuts metronomically from woman to woman for reaction shots -- you begin to feel you're trapped in a lunatic asylum.
Or maybe Fickman's hysterical females are possessed. From moment to moment, personalities and emotional positions totally reverse themselves. Here's Joanna putting on her ugly face and reverting to high school mean girl; a second later, she's a sweetheart mourning her dead parents and showering Marni's bro with true love. Aunt Ramona shapeshifts from brash cougar to mild-mannered pussycat in nanoseconds; Weaver was more convincing -- and more womanly -- as a blue-skinned Na'vi.
Why does Betty White drop in here and there in "You Again"? Well, duh, it's obligatory: Riding high on the "Q" scale, the dear lady sells tickets. In her biggest scene, White coaxes Marni to help her pop in her false teeth, accidentally smearing sticky denture glue in her granddaughter's hair (homage to "There's Something About Mary"'s classic jism joke?). Truly unfunny, even repulsively ageist, but that's Fickman's idea of "female-driven comedy." (Did I mention that poor Cloris Leachman, apparently wearing her bathrobe, is dragged out of bed to cameo as White's ancient nemesis?)
As for Bell and Yustman, they might both have been extruded from a tube of Pretty Girl paste. Frequently shot in close-up, they alternate between distorting their faces into fake forms of feeling and an odd affectlessness. Their flesh looks as though it's fashioned out of soft, very dense, peach-colored rubber; nothing real can get in or out of such dolls. But they're made for the men in "You Again," every one a sexless prop, so stripped of individuality or authentic expression he's a perfect Ken to his Barbie. Only one male (Kyle Bornheimer, TV's "Chuck") -- ironically, the film's designated freak -- manages to edge momentarily into creepy, for-real comedy, when he moans a wordless dirge of a love song to the girl who got away.
So unless your taste somehow runs to horrifically unfunny comedy driven by crazies and castrati, here's one survivor of "You Again" who suggests avoiding Fickman's folly like cinematic plague.
Kat Murphy currently reviews films for Seattle's Queen Anne News and writes essays on film for Steadycam magazine. A frequent speaker on film, Murphy has contributed numerous essays to magazines (Film Comment, the Village Voice, Film West, Newsweek-Japan), books ("Best American Movie Writing of 1998," "Women and Cinema," "The Myth of the West") and websites (Amazon.com, Cinemania.com, Reel.com). Once upon a time, in another life, she wrote speeches for Bill Clinton, Jack Lemmon, Harrison Ford, Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro, Art Garfunkel and Diana Ross.