No one is in a great place after a breakup. It’s not a recommended time to make big life decisions, especially since circumstances will surely have changed that it hardly seems like the ideal moment to try something new. Relying on friends for support can be helpful and absolutely crucial, but it’s rare to find someone who is going through nearly the same thing. I Want You Back features two characters both reeling from being unexpectedly dumped whose plan to help each other win back their exes results in tremendous and endearing entertainment.
Working in the same office building and both running into the stairwell to cry aren’t the only things that make Emma (Jenny Slate) and Peter (Charlie Day) the perfect pair. They’re both gleefully unaware of any issues in their relationships and that Noah (Scott Eastwood) and Anne (Gina Rodrigurez), respectively, are preparing to break up with them. Emma and Peter become fast friends and set out to execute carefully-concocted plans to get Noah and Anne to take them back. As expected, things don’t go as planned.
This is a concept that’s not all that original in some ways, yet there’s something so natural and organic about the way it happens that it feels perfectly fresh. Emma and Peter acknowledge they may have had something to do with their relationships ending, but they were both so floored that all they can see is that the decision has to be somehow reversible. How they go about trying to wear Noah and Anna down is particularly entertaining, crafting approaches that aren’t fully thought through and which have a tendency to go awry.
It would be easy to assume that a film starring Slate and Day, who are known for loud and obnoxious roles on Parks and Recreation and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, among other things, would be similarly in-your-face and over-the-top. But that’s not the case at all, as the eccentricities of both Emma and Peter are relatively toned-down. They are still obsessive and needy, but they don’t hog all of the attention, and they’re actually very effective and likeable romantic leads, even if this isn’t a typical romance. They’re actively pining for someone else and relying on each other solely as friends, though obviously the possibility of romance exists given the nature of how storytelling always goes.
There is something very relatable and likeable about both Emma and Peter, even if they do go to extremes to try to rectify their situations. Fortunately, Noah and Anna are also three-dimensional, and they had perfectly legitimate reasons to end their respective relationships, even if they may not have gone about it in the best way. While their new partners, Ginny (Clark Backo) and Logan (Manny Jacinto), are easy targets of ridicule for the jilted exes, they too are sophisticated and not thinly-drawn, contributing to a rich ensemble that makes this film a truly enjoyable time.
I Want You Back succeeds largely by playing it safe, skipping gross-out humor and exaggerated scenarios to instead portray the desperate and not entirely calculated endeavors of two people who believe they can salvage something that can’t be fixed through passion and actions alone. While certain developments might be seen as predictable, this film, from Jason Orley, director of the underrated Big Time Adolescence, and screenwriters Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, the creative team behind Hulu’s How I Met Your Father, is content to let its characters guide its journey. How it ends isn’t nearly as relevant to the fun had on the way to get there, which is plentiful and heavy on the laughs.
I Want You Back premieres exclusively on Prime Video on Friday, February 11th.