Fun, but fluffy . . . and flakey.
That is, “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” is a lot like Romy (Mia Sorvino) and Michele (Lisa Kudrow)—two twentysomething Valley Girls who think that life’s a beach and responsibility is for old people. It’s “Legally Blonde” times two, but without the law school ambition.
Kudrow, of course, is best known for playing another airhead—Phoebe—on “Friends,” and this 1997 comedy hit the big screen right in the middle of that popular show’s run. The characters are based on two from the play “The Ladies Room,” which also starred Kudrow, so she’s had plenty of time to perfect her timing, delivery, and mannerisms. But Sorvino is only slightly less convincing as the rent-payer who works at an L.A. Jaguar dealership.
Romy and Michele have been a non-lesbian item since high school, and when they learn from a jaded and sarcastic customer at the dealership (Janeane Garofalo) that their class is having a 10 year reunion, they decide to go. Being Valley Girls, the first thing they think to do is to lose weight, even though they’re both thin as rollerblades. And, realizing for the first time that they haven’t really changed much or DONE much since high school, they put their little minds together to concoct pasts for themselves so they can return to Tucson with their heads held high and show those “A-Group” cheerleader types a thing or two. Plus, Romy still has a torch to carry and an axe to grind. In flashback we not only see how these two were treated in high school; we also see Romy crushing on the star quarterback, who of course is dating the head cheerleader (Julia Campbell). When Romy asks Billy to the big dance and he says sure, it’s just a cruel set-up staged by that darned cheerleader Christie. Michele, meanwhile, was pursued by a nerd (Alan Cumming) whom she treated pretty much the same as Billy treated Romy.
The screenplay by Robin Schiff feels like two testaments—old and new—with the flashback half seamlessly segueing into their trip to Tucson and their reunion experiences. No real dramatic tension exists, but the closest thing to it is the falling out that Romy and Michele have en route (“I’m the Mary, and you’re the Rhoda”; You’re the Rhoda, you’re the Jewish one!”). What holds an audience’s interest is the same thing that keeps people going back to their own high school reunions: curiosity. Sometimes the cool kids become cool adults, but other times the ugly duckling archetype is in full operation. Attractive people sometimes stay attractive but turn frumpy just as easily. And the dynamic? In the back of everyone’s memory there’s a template of how to relate to everyone according to high school, but at the reunion everyone has to feel their way and decide what hierarchy now exists. Who has money? Who has success? Who are the new A-Groupers?
That’s part of the fun of “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.” The other part comes from watching the two Valley Girls, with all their naiveté, get what they deserve. And since they don’t know what they want for most of the film, that’s one of the dramatic (well, in a comedic sense) questions.
The writing is, like the reunion itself, unpredictable. Sometimes it plays out the way you think it will, and other times there are surprises, as when Michele muses, “For me, it’s like I’ve just given birth to my own baby girl, except she’s like a big giant girl who smokes and says ‘shit’ a lot. You know?”
There are enough comic moments (like the Marlboro man who torments Garafalo’s character) to make the screenplay work, though in truth its Kudrow and Sorvino who carry the film, every bit as much as if it were “Mary and Rhoda’s High School Reunion,” or “Laverne and Shirley’s High School Reunion.” Both actors are highly educated, and their Valley Girl act could have become quickly tiresome. But the blend of comic lines and their own improvisations make it all come together . . . in a pleasantly vapid sort of way.
Cinematographer Raynaldo Villalobos (“Risky Business”) manages just the right amount of light to balance an old look with the low-lit glamour of prom and its explosion of pastels and cheap decorations. “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” features situational art direction, with the visual sequences taking their cues from each particular scene. Some scenes are softer, while others pop with color and stronger black levels. It depends on the mood. The film comes to 50GB Blu-ray via an AVC/MPEG-4 encode, presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
Apart from the music—which, in itself, will take some people down memory lane with tracks by Culture Club, Cindy Lauper, The Go-Gos, Robert Palmer, Wang Chung, etc.—the film is center-heavy, with more dialogue than ambient sound. But the dialogue is clear and precise, with no distortion. The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1, with Spanish and French Dolby Digital 2.0 options. Subtitles are in English SDH, Spanish and French.
I don’t know if the term “featurette” can even be used to describe a behind-the-scenes interview piece that runs under four minutes, but that’s the only bonus feature, apart from the original trailer. So why are they billing this as a 15th Anniversary Edition?
Kudrow and Sorvino are fun to watch, Garafalo is deliciously acerbic, and the whole Valley Girl reunion thing is a stroke of light-and-fluffy genius.