Movie review: ‘You Again’

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To consider the baffling, would-be romantic- comedy “You Again,” it’s best to use the words of one of the movie’s male characters, who sputters at one point: “I don’t pretend to have the slightest clue about the way it works in the girl world. Quite frankly, it frightens and confuses me.”

That this line was penned by a woman, first-time screenwriter Moe Jelline, adds a certain level of irony, of course. You figure that most women — and men too, if they’re older than, say, 15 — know a thing or two about the girl world. What’s actually impenetrable? The girl world found in crass comedies such as “You Again,” movies that reduce women to sad clichés and a uniform level of bad behavior that would appall the cast members of “Jersey Shore.”

The film’s premise has a kernel of promise: High-school nerd Marni ( Kristen Bell) grows up, loses the glasses and zits, gains a sweet job and competent hairstyle, and puts the past behind her. Then she finds out her brother (James Wolk) is marrying Joanna ( Odette Yustman), a.k.a. “Satan’s Spawn,” a.k.a. “the girl who ruined her life in high school.”


And in the Small World Department, it turns out that Joanna’s beloved Aunt Ramona ( Sigourney Weaver) enjoyed a high-school rivalry with none other than Marni’s mother ( Jamie Lee Curtis), creating a parallel track for two generations of women to play out petty grudges and pratfall their way through the mud and muck to the inevitable group hug.

Director Andy Fickman ( “Race to Witch Mountain”) emphasizes the physical comedy, employing an aggressively upbeat score that functions as a wink-wink laugh track. He does try to keep the audience guessing about Joanna’s nature, although that may have more to do with indecision and incompetence than the desire to preserve a sense of mystery.

Not surprisingly, Weaver and Curtis completely upstage their younger counterparts, both women gamely trying to add a bit of dimension and believability to their characters’ insecurities. Betty White turns up in a small role, but of the supporting players, it’s Kyle Bornheimer, playing Joanna’s jilted ex, who makes the best impression. His delivery of a rehearsal dinner toast that references Air Supply ranks as one of the most awkward (and funny) movie moments of the year. Maybe this guy could shed some light on the girl world.