Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion

Friday April 25, 1997

     There are two versions of the title event in director David Mirkin's "Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion." One occurs as a dream, the other as an actual event, and it is a pleasure to report that the second is as goofy and fantastic as the first.
     The urge to compare "Romy and Michelle" to other movies and characters is irresistible. It's a bit of "Clueless" mixed in with the outrageous humor of "Strictly Ballroom," its theme combines "Revenge of the Nerds" with "Thelma & Louise," and its two main characters are Beavis and Butt-head with breasts. Heh-heh. Cool.
     Adapted by Robin Schiff from her play "Ladies Room," "Romy and Michelle" is the story of two suspended-adolescent women, lifelong friends and former high school geeks-in-arms, who decide to attend their reunion at Tucson's Sagebrush High, hoping to dazzle their former tormentors with their trumped-up success as the inventors of Post-its.
     In fact, Romy (Mira Sorvino) is a clerk at a Los Angeles Jaguar dealership and Michelle (Lisa Kudrow) is an unemployed clothing designer. They're roommates, soul mates and co-dependents who still talk and think like Valley girls, and while their lights upstairs are dim, the girls are bright enough to know their classmates will still find them dull.
     *
     The dead-pan performances of Sorvino and Kudrow, who played Michelle in the original play, are perfect. Romy and Michelle are cartoon characters, but the actresses make them both real and enormously sympathetic. Kudrow plays Michelle as the picture of honest, blissful ignorance, while Sorvino adds to those qualities the melancholy of a woman carrying a teenager's torch.
     For Michelle, the whole point of going to the reunion is to have a good time, maybe sleep with someone. For Romy, there's the hope of finally catching the eye of the high school jock who never gave her a look.
     Mirkin introduces the main characters at the reunion through a series of anecdotal flashbacks that Romy and Michelle share while thumbing through the Sagebrush annual. There's Billy (Vincent Ventresca), Romy's airhead dreamboat; his snooty prom queen girlfriend Christie (Julia Campbell); super-geek Sandy Frink (Alan Cumming), who has a debilitating crush on Michelle; and Heather (Janeane Garofalo), a disheveled loner who seems to have majored in anger.
     All these characters reappear in delightfully surprising ways in both Michelle's dreamed-up reunion and the real one. Garofalo's manner finally begins to grate--she isn't given much to do other than scowl and swear--but the movie skips along too quickly for the sour notes or its many flat moments to spoil the party.
     Mirkin, a first-time director whose TV comedy writing credits include "The Tracey Ullman Show" and "The Simpsons," knew exactly what he had here and composed it like frames in a comic strip, ordering cheerful snow-cone colors for everything from the girls' childlike outfits to the decor of a Laundromat. In fact, there's a jaunty spirit to every element in the film, from Reynaldo Villalobos' photography to Mayne Berke's production design to Mona May's funky costumes to Steve Bartek's score.
     But beneath the endless silliness of the movie beats a real heart, and its theme of loyal friendship keeps propping it up every time the thin walls of the story seem about to collapse. Though "Romy and Michelle" doing Tucson doesn't take us much further than Beavis and Butt-head doing America, the ride, and the company, are a lot more fun.


Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion, 1997. R for language. A Laurence Mark production, released by Touchstone Pictures. Director David Mirkin. Producer Laurence Mark. Script Robin Schiff. Photography Reynaldo Villalobos. Editor David Finfer. Production design Mayne Berke. Costumes Mona May. Music Steve Bartek. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. Mira Sorvino as Romy. Lisa Kudrow as Michelle. Janeane Garofalo as Heather. Alan Cumming as Sandy. Vincent Ventresca as Billy. Julia Campbell as Christie.

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