I Want You Back is the first great rom-com of 2022, a hopeful, sweet, and hilariously awkward movie that I simply loved. An ensemble cast with overwhelmingly charming chemistry sell the material, especially the two leads, played by Charlie Day and Jenny Slate. Even though one of the characters says their situation is “like Cruel Intentions, only sexier,” I Want You Back channels the power of Friends with Benefits and 90s romance. Hopeless romantics and cynics alike will relate to the film’s optimistic outlook, mixed with dark comedy.
Peter (Day), a retirement home worker, and Emma (Slate), whose job at a dental office pays the bills, have both been unceremoniously dumped by their significant others. An Instagram-story recap of both relationships over the opening credits nicely sets up the tone. Noah (Scott Eastwood) has left Emma for a number of reasons—Emma has college student roommates, and at 32, she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life. Peter is meanwhile rudderless and unsure about his future. In six years with his current girlfriend, they never left the country once. Anne (Gina Rodriguez) ultimately leaves Peter feeling that he has been stifling her career. She could be the next Kate Winslet, but “not with you,” Anne tells Peter. Peter and Emma meet crying in a stairwell, connected by the mutual feelings of abandonment and heartbreak.
Peter and Emma are shook to learn that their significant others have already moved on without a care in the world. The duo concocts a genius plan that fills the typical rom-com “crazy scheme” quota. It manages to double pump its effectiveness thanks to the presence of a four-way love square. The plan is simple: get their exes back with a potent combination of conniving and skills. Peter’s mission is to infiltrate Noah at the gym and poison his relationship with bubbly Ginny (Clark Backo), whilst Emma plots to sexually awaken Anne so she will leave her progressive new boyfriend, Logan (Manny Jacinto, The Good Place) It is time for their exes to realize they have made a terrible decision, then come crawling back. Totally plausible, right?
Par for the course, I Want You Back wrings major laughs out of the bond that forms between Peter and Emma. As the hole is dug deeper into their juxtaposing lies, the characters become doubly complex. Charlie Day gets to run screaming, jumping off a balcony into a hot tub, as Emma tries to crack one of the most awkward threesomes of all time. The script from Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger gives Jenny Slate big moments, my favorite of which is a spontaneous, rousing rendition of “Suddenly Seymour.” Smaller players are still given memorable moments too, including a hilariously oversexed college roommate named Paul (Scream’s Mason Gooding), and a drug-dealing loser played by Pete Davidson.
Quotable, fresh, and familiar, I Want You Back easily hits that rom-com sweet spot. Fans of the diverse collection of actors will find themselves falling in love with the Peter and Emma dynamic. Con Air in a cute old-school theater together—obviously an utter dream. Of course, all the goodwill is entirely owed to Charlie Day and Jenny Slate, who hit a homerun into the romantic comedy hall of fame. Amazon Studios continues its hot streak in establishing itself as a true cinematic entity.
I Want You Back gives new meaning to “the one that got away” when it debuts exclusively on Amazon Prime on Friday, February 11th.