By now, it is rare to expect a rom-com to buck the formula the genre is built upon. Most of the time, a good rom-com hinges more on the likeability and chemistry of the leads than it does plot or invention. Luckily, Charlie Day and Jenny Slate are very charming together here. I Want You Back is formulaic, a throwback to rom-coms of the early 00s, but it works because it is funny and the leads are worth rooting for.
Directed by Jason Orley and written by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, the film centers around two recently dumped 30-somethings who band together to do horrible, dishonest things to get their partners back. Peter (Day) is blindsided when Anne (Gina Rodriguez) dumps him for basically being too boring and stagnant. Emma (Slate) is dumped by Noah (Scott Eastwood) for not having her life together. The two meet in a stairwell in the building they both work in. They connect by venting to each other about their exes and sharing the misery of being let go by someone they loved. After some drinking, the two become friends who band together to get their exes back. Emma is going to seduce Anne's new boyfriend. Peter is going to befriend Noah and get him to dump his new girlfriend.
The main story here is awful. It works against us wanting to like Peter and Emma because they are constantly being deceptive and petty. Their mission is to destroy the happiness of their exes and the whole thing reeks of desperation. Despite all of this, the film gets a lot right. First, it captures the awkward feeling of being in your 30s and feeling like your life isn't where it should be. Secondly, it doesn't shy away from showing the leads as being driven by a resistance to change and being alone. It exposes them as being blinded by what they thought was love. And finally, the film succeeds because Day and Slate are great together. We believe in their friendship and the romance that begins to develop between them. Both actors have great comic timing and it is put to good use here.
So I Want You Back has a horrible plot and sticks to the rom-com formula, it still ends up being charming and worth seeking out if you love this genre. It also wrestles with loneliness in a way few rom-coms ever do. This helps it stand out along with the natural comedy from the film's leads. Valentine's Day is right around the corner and here is a good film to celebrate or lament the holiday. It will work for both.