Saturday, 14 September 2019

Movie Review: 17 Again (2009)


A body transformation high school comedy, 17 Again is a surprisingly breezy exploration of second chances and rediscovering priorities.

In 1989, 17 year old star high school basketball player Mike O'Donnell (Zac Efron) abandons the game of his life to be with his girlfriend Scarlet after she surprises him with news that she's pregnant. Twenty years later, Mike (Matthew Perry) is a jaded and depressed salesman, emotionally ignoring Scarlet (Leslie Mann) and their two teenagers Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg) and Alex (Sterling Knight). After they separate and Scarlet initiates divorce proceedings, Mike encounters a mysterious spirit guide and finds himself back in his 17 year old body.

Mike re-enrolls in high school with his nerdy and wealthy best friend Ned Gold (Thomas Lennon) helping out by pretending to be his dad. Now in his kids' environment, Mike learns Maggie is being pressured into having sex by school bully Stan (Hunter Parrish), while Alex is the victim of bullying and hesitant to express his basketball skills. Meanwhile Ned sets his eyes on wooing Principal Jane Masterson (Melora Hardin), who has a policy against dating parents. Mike has to try to be a father and reclaim Scarlet's love, all while navigating the hazards of high school.

Perfectly paced at 105 minutes and riding on the energy of a willing cast, 17 Again deftly combines a middle age crisis with a wacky second shot at rebooting a stalled life in an often edgy package. The film is as restless as a high school cafeteria at lunch hour, bustling with multiple intersecting stories of parents, offspring, schoolmates and one dorky but unimaginably rich and randy friend.

The film wisely does not dwell on Mike's shock at finding himself in a teenaged body, and avoids the tired body fluid jokes. Instead writer Jason Filardi and director Burr Steers find good laughs in high-risk areas, where a dad now has to witness at close quarters the burgeoning sexuality of his daughter while fending off the aggressive advances of her classmates, and a middle-aged husband who looks like a 17 year old has to romance his skeptical wife.

17 Again refreshingly does not immediately telegraph where it wants to go, and Mike is left without instructions on how to reassemble his life. His high school redux could be about seizing the opportunity to become a basketball star, understanding the pressures faced by his kids, learning what it means to be a parent, or making amends to his wife, but succeeding at anything will not be easy with the mind of a jaded adult and the body of a hunky teen.

The film rides on Zac Efron's shoulders and he delivers a winning performance, channeling with some devious cunning the spirit of a frustrated middle aged man solving his destiny puzzle. Efron handles a couple of soapbox scenes with aplomb. Leslie Mann brings her brand of laidback sarcasm to the role of Scarlet, first quite tired of her husband's defeatism them mystified by the attractive young man hovering around her.

17 Again is teen-oriented humour that refreshingly also works for adults. The body may be jumbled, but the entertainment is smooth.






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