Taking Down Gossip Girls

About 10 minutes into “You Again,” the beautiful Joanna (Odette Yustman) turns — hair flowing, bathed in golden light, announced by an angel chorus — to face Marni Olson (Kristen Bell), and the premise of the movie becomes crystal clear: High school never ends. Not if you’re Marni, a one-time loser whose arch-nemesis has returned to marry her brother, hoodwink her family and deny their ugly past in one fell swoop.

Ten minutes later, Joanna’s ultra-chic, ultra-successful Aunt Ramona (Sigourney Weaver) turns — hair flowing, bathed in golden light, announced by an angel chorus — to face Marni’s mother Gail (Jamie Lee Curtis) and, in case it wasn’t clear the first time, serves as a reminder that you can never live down who you once were. Not  if you’re Gail, who watches her own high school nemesis rattle off a list of accomplishments that include owning 14 exclusive hotel chains and remaining on Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women list for an 11th consecutive year.

Commence the next 70 minutes, as Marni desperately tries to reveal Joanna’s true colors to her adoring family, and Gail breaks sink drains and gets speeding tickets trying to one-up Ramona. There’s a disastrous impromptu dance-off that ends in a pile of bruises, a cringe-inducing wedding rehearsal speech and plenty of pratfalls: people falling into an ant hole (Marni) and a swimming pool (Ramona), falling out of a treehouse (Will and Joanna), and knocking down half the family in an attempt to outdo the competition with a mid-air leap (Gail).

The comedic timing is well done, and the movie has plenty of funny moments — including every time Marni’s feisty cougar of a Grandmother Bunny (Betty White) hits on men Marni’s age, or when Kristin Chenoweth appears as Georgia King, the extremely tan wedding planner with a Southern drawl and corny dance lessons to match. Curtis and Weaver perfect the frenemy interaction, as they wear fake grins and taunt each other aggressively in a race down the street. Bell’s Marni — though frenzied enough to illegally dig up archives to fulfill her goals — is likable and shows that no matter how circumstances change, something about high school makes old insecurities flare up.

But “You Again” falls flat because director Andy Finkman (She’s the Man) spends 80 minutes showing how deep old wounds can be, then suggests that they’re actually quite shallow since the decade-old scars are healed right before the credits roll. After the film sets up repeated, painful flashbacks of being locked out of homeroom by classmates singing “We Are the Champions,” it’s hard to believe that everything can be fixed in fewer than five minutes. There’s no true cathartic closure.

“You Again” is thin on plot. The most interesting part of the movie is figuring out, detective-style, what Joanna is up to, and once that’s solved, it’s just a few more funny incidents until the inevitable reconciliation as everyone emerges triumphant.

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