WFTB Score: 8/20
The plot: Bosom buddies Romy and Michele hear that their school is having a 10-year reunion, but come to the conclusion that their lives aren’t up to scratch. When plan A – suddenly becoming successful, svelte and attached – doesn’t work, the girls hit on a much easier plan B: just lie. After all, what could possibly go wrong?
School days at Sagebrush High, Tucson, Arizona weren’t exactly a blast for lifelong friends Romy (Mira Sorvino) and Michele (Lisa Kudrow). Romy couldn’t get over her crush on the athletic Billy (Vincent Ventresca), leaving her ripe for humiliation at the hands of Billy’s girlfriend Christy (Julia Campbell) and her mean girlfriends. While Michele was also a victim of Christy’s spitefulness, she was more troubled by the unwanted attentions of awkward geek Sandy Frink (Alan Cumming), Sandy being an unlikely (and unreciprocated) object of desire for aggressive loner Heather (Janeane Garofalo).
Ten years later, Romy and Michele are flatmates and have an outwardly sunny life in Los Angeles, partying by night and, in Michele’s case, doing nothing in the daytime. However, when Heather lets slip that Sagebrush is holding a reunion, the ladies are suddenly forced to assess how successful they really are. In the face of potential fresh humiliation, they try to improve their lives quickly by slimming down and snagging blokes, while Michele half-heartedly looks for a job.
When all that proves too much hard work, Romy makes another suggestion: if they act like they’re successful businesswomen, who’s to say they’re not? Romy comes up with the brilliant wheeze that they invented Post-Its, while Michele runs up a couple of natty suits; unfortunately, an argument over their relative cuteness causes the girls to fall out, depriving them of mutual support when they face their former tormentors.
Let’s start with the good things about Romy and Michele…, which more or less boils down to Romy and Michele. Anyone who has seen Friends (the early seasons, anyway) will know that Kudrow is a very capable comic actress, and her Michele is marvellously dippy whilst never feeling like a clone of Phoebe Buffay. Alongside Kudrow, Sorvino is quite lovely as Romy, and it’s a pity that she hasn’t done more comedy (or perhaps she has, in which case it’s a pity I’ve not seen it).
Together they make a believably featherbrained and eminently watchable duo. Actually, the acting’s generally pretty good: Garofalo’s trademark surly demeanour helps her steal every scene she’s in, Cumming has fun in a smallish role, and so does Camryn Manheim as always-enthusiastic organiser Toby. The film also gets a point for the evocative 80s soundtrack and at least one more for the strange delights of Romy, Michele and Sandy’s freestyle dance.
Sadly, that’s more or less where the good things end. I’m neutral about the overall storyline, since this isn’t the first film to point out that blondes from Los Angeles have a reputation for being vacuous – Earth Girls are Easy and Clueless predate Romy and Michele, Legally Blonde came after – and won’t be the last. What’s more destructive is the inelegant nature of Robin Schiff’s screenplay and David Mirkin’s direction. For example, the film repeatedly zooms in and out of a yearbook to establish, in flashback, what the characters were like at eighteen; the device works once but becomes tiresome the third time around. Another example is the inconsistency of Heather’s motivation: having been in love with Frink, like, forever, she goes off him because he’s become rich and self-confident?
Or take Michele’s dream, which takes up a considerable chunk of the middle act. The whole point of a comedy dream sequence is that we initially accept it as the ‘real’ story, are taken aback when things go a bit strange, then cotton on just as the game’s given away (Exhibit A: Baldrick turning into an Alsatian in Blackadder the Third). Romy and Michele extends its dream sequence well past the point that the audience twigs what’s going on, yet persists anyway, indulging in a 70-year flash-forward to pay off a weak joke about The Mary Tyler Moore Show that’ll mean nothing to 99% of those viewing. Anybody would think there was some padding going on.
The real issue, of course, is that the film is just not funny enough. Were the laughs bigger, you wouldn’t notice the mechanics of the script; as it is, it often misfires, so the movie judders along like the Jaguar Romy (ahem) procures from the dealership where she works (there’s some other clunking product placement too). It doesn’t surprise me at all that while this film is adapted from a Robin Schiff play, she’s essentially a TV writer: the jokes are TV-sized and, without the response from a live audience to fill the gaps, often fall flat. Romy and Michele would have benefited greatly from a sharper edge, like Heathers, or a chunkier story – I kept waiting for something exciting to happen, before realising that the reunion film I really wanted to be watching was Grosse Pointe Blank.
Regarded in a cold light, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion doesn’t stack up, doing poorly by two good actresses and two zeitgeisty (in 1997) characters by sending them on a sitcom journey without enough jokes in the trunk. But for all the movie’s faults, there’s something undeniably sunny and ultimately uplifting about Romy and Michele themselves – and hey, it’s a damn sight better than Mirkin’s awful Heartbreakers.