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The Terminal List

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After a mission gone wrong, Navy SEAL James Reece (Chris Pratt) returns home as the lone survivor of his platoon. Suffering from a head wound and possible hallucinations, James is forced to piece together the events leading to the ambush that killed his men, and soon finds himself in the middle of a convoluted web of deception and betrayal way above his pay grade.

Based on the best-selling novels by former Navy SEAL Jack Carr, The Terminal List fits the mould of the kind of classic action thriller that had its heyday in the ‘90s. Teaming up with his Magnificent Seven collaborator Chris Pratt, Antoine Fuqua takes on the dual mantle of Executive Producer and director of the pilot episode, delivering a bullet-riddled vengeance ride reminiscent of his military vigilante flick Shooter.

At its core, it’s the kind of fast-paced revenge thriller fuelled by patriotism and firepower we’ve seen time and time again, but the layers of political intrigue and psychological twists Carr throws into the mix add just enough tension to keep the plot fresh.

Constance Wu does what she can with her exposition-heavy role as Katie Buranek, the journalist digging into Reece’s story. Her innate charisma manages to keep her scenes from fading into the background when pitted against high-octane explosions and knife-fights, but it’s a shame that she wasn’t given more to do.

Given its origins as a book series well known for its relentless action, the story makes a difficult transition to the screen — after dropping us into the deep end of a war zone with the opening scenes, the pacing takes a hit as Reece works through his recovery and reconnects with his family back on the homefront. The ensuing conspiracy makes for an enticing puzzle, but unfortunately the plot twists are predictable enough to keep them from being truly memorable.

Intrigue and paranoia coalesce into standard-issue twists and turns, but with Fuqua’s deft hand at the helm, the tension is consistent enough to make this a bingeable watch.

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The Summer I Turned Pretty

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A touching, enjoyable addition to the teen romance genre, The Summer I Turned Pretty is author-turned-showrunner Jenny Han’s (To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before) latest work to make the jump from page to screen.

Isabel “Belly” Conklin has spent every summer since she was a baby holidaying with her mum Laurel and brother Steven at Cousins Beach. Joined by her mum’s college bestie Susannah, and Susannah’s two sons Conrad and Jeremiah, Cousins Beach was always a lazy getaway, an opportunity for the mums and the kids to bond. This summer things are different: on the cusp of her 16th birthday, Belly isn’t a little kid any more, and her innocent friendship with Conrad, the boy she’s been crushing on since she was 10 years old, and his brother Jeremiah, are about to get a whole lot more complicated.

On the surface, it’s your standard coming-of-age fare, complete with inescapable love triangle, but as always Han brings a level of charisma and likeability to her characters that makes even the most brooding and angst-ridden teen compelling to watch.

Newcomer Lola Tung takes on the role of Belly, doing an admirable job playing the lead despite this being her very first acting credit. A refreshing change from the “you don’t know you’re beautiful” YA heroines we’ve grown accustomed to, Belly is – as the title suggests – pretty and learning to make the most of it. There’s a self-centred superficiality to the character and yet Tung approaches her with a kind of effortless charm that will have audiences championing her even at her most bratty.

By adapting and updating her own words for the screen, Han brings an authenticity to the teen’s language and social dynamics; gone is the rich bully versus plucky underdog hero trope we’ve seen from this genre time and again. The fictional Cousins Beach is home to its fair share of debutantes and trust fund babies but there’s a complexity to each of the characters, allowing just enough conflict to keep things interesting but never fully straying from the light-hearted emotionality we’ve come to expect from Han’s works.

While the plot touches lightly on some heavier themes like racism, classism, and grief, The Summer I Turned Pretty is ultimately a light and fluffy escape where the summer feels endless and first loves are forever.

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There Are No Saints

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There Are No Saints has had a tumultuous journey since production began almost a decade ago. Initially written and directed by Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) under the banner of The Jesuit, and starring a pre-Star Wars Oscar Isaac, the film went through several changes before filming completed in 2014.

By then, while Schrader’s script remained, he had been moved to an executive producer credit, with a number of the roles farmed out to new actors. For those who already know all this, There Are No Saints is certainly going to pique their interest as to what became of this action thriller.

Directed by Alfonso Pineda Ulloa, the film stars Jose Maria Yazpik (Narcos) as Neto, a brutal hitman recently released from prison after a murder conviction is overturned. Back in society, Neto, known as the Jesuit to his enemies, has decided to hang up his spurs in pursuit of a quieter life. His former partner, Nadia (Paz Vega), now living with property developer/gangster Vincent (Neal McDonough), reluctantly allows Neto visitation rights to his son. That decision leads to things becoming demonstrably worse for Neto as, overwhelmed with jealousy that he is back in Nadia’s life, Vincent kills her before absconding with their young boy.

This is essentially a tale of revenge that in the final act, it could be argued, shares some DNA with Park Chan-Wook’s Sympathy for Mr Vengeance. With the help of a strip club bartender, Inez (Shannyn Sossamon), Neto blazes a violent and bloody path to reclaim his son.

When the violence kicks in, the director ensures you hear and see every snapped bone and bullet penetrating flesh. This is not the slickly produced chaos of the John Wick movies, however. When Neto steps into the ring, the scenes have all the visceral rage of a Robert De Niro trademarked curb stomping. At times, it can feel oppressive, as if the film is going out of its way to be nihilistic, with girlfriends being shot just to make the bad guys give up information of Vincent’s whereabouts.

However, that appears to be the true theme of the film with Neto shown to have not really changed in the ways he probably hopes he had. Like the men he’s up against, Neto has resigned himself to a life of bloodshed and growling. Violence begets violence, There Are No Saints shouts, and so it shall be for eternity. Come the film’s final scene, the audience is left to wonder if anyone has learnt anything from the whole bloody massacre.

Given the film’s protracted production, it’s hard to shake the feeling that there has been further tinkering behind the scenes since they called cut. A non-diegetic radio show fills in the blanks of Neto’s past in the opening, suggesting there used to be scenes that offered a show-not-tell approach. Equally, Tim Roth pops up for a couple of scenes in a cameo which ends with him literally say goodbye to the movie. His relationship with Neto, at the beginning, suggests a stronger bond than what’s presented on screen. It would be interesting to see how much the final product reflects Schrader’s, and then Ulloa’s, vision.

As an exploration of how someone can never escape their sins – which feels like the original intention given the film’s opening bible quote – then the film is somewhat wanting in that department.  However, it garners more success as a pulpy exploitation flick, where men are exploitative, and women are there too. A curiosity of a film, There Are No Saints’ lack of morality is certainly not going to be everyone’s idea of a night in.

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Night Sky

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Laced with intrigue, the new science-fiction drama series, Night Sky, follows an array of characters, centring on an elderly couple, Irene and Franklin York, played by Oscar winners Sissy Spacek and J.K. Simmons.

The Yorks lead a simple life in their quiet hometown in Illinois. Except, their mundane exterior is not quite as it seems. Many years ago, Irene and Franklin discovered an ancient chamber concealed in their garden shed, with the ability to transport them to an observer station, overlooking a desolate alien planet with an exquisite night sky. However, this mysterious chamber turns out to be much more than either of them had initially imagined.

The pair have been coming here for years to sit in awe of the planet’s beauty and ponder the possibilities of its existence. But this shared secret that has long bonded their union is now becoming a dividing factor in the Yorks’ marriage. As Irene’s health is steadily declining, Franklin suspects that these frequent trips are beginning to take a toll.

On one occasion when visiting ‘The Stars’, as the Yorks have dubbed it, Irene finds a bloody and unconscious stranger in the hidden chamber. Shocked at his appearance, the Yorks bring him home. Once awake, the perplexing young man introduces himself as Jude. He claims to suffer from amnesia and have no recollection of his former life. While Franklin is suspicious of the newcomer’s inexplicable existence, Irene is reminded of her late son Michael and embraces him with open arms, and proceeds to help Jude with his pursuit of answers about his hazy past.

In the second episode, the series takes an unusual shift that will have you wondering if you’re still watching the same show. In rural Argentina, we are introduced to Stella (Julieta Zylberberg) and Toni (Roco Hernández), a mother and daughter who live an extremely secluded lifestyle. As Toni comes of age and enters high school, she begins to desire more from her sheltered upbringing. This creates a tumultuous relationship between her and mum as Stella battles to keep Toni unaware of their family’s secret legacy and why they must guard an ancient chapel on their land. However, upon the arrival of a shady figure from Stella’s past, she is forced to introduce her daughter into a world of turbulence and danger.

The stories run parallel as the show continues, before inevitability converging in later episodes.

Spacek and Simmons give Night Sky its gravity, their onscreen partnership demonstrating a warm affection for one another. Spacek in particular shines as Irene, conveying a tender presence in every scene, while Simmons brings a vulnerability to his portrayal of Franklin. Kiah McKirnan plays the Yorks’ concerned granddaughter and Adam Bartley plays the sceptical neighbour, but these characters feel like unnecessary filler against the Yorks and mother-daughter duo Stella and Toni.

While Night Sky has an alluring sense of mystery, the sluggish pace and scattered tone, switching between the Yorks in Illinois and Stella and Toni in Argentina, make it difficult to view the series as one cohesive story and not two totally different shows. Also, Night Sky’s focus on relationships and themes of love and loss overshadow the hollow sci-fi plot – a McGuffin if you will. Although it takes its time to build to any real tension, Simmons and Spacek continue to keep audiences engaged.

Performance driven and not particularly ground-breaking, the slow burn sci-fi drama Night Sky relies on its drawcards of Simmons and Spacek to foster its appeal, and thankfully, the two seasoned actors make the trip worthwhile.

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Conversations with Friends

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In this nuanced coming-of-age drama, Dublin college students Frances (Alison Oliver) and Bobbi (Sasha Lane) collide with successful established writer Melissa (Jemima Kirke) during an amateur poetry night. Seduced by her enigmatic charm, Frances and Bobbi are quickly drawn into Melissa’s world, and the ensuing entanglement between the students, their alluring new acquaintance, and her soft-spoken, far more reserved husband Nick (Joe Alwyn) blurs lines between friendship, sex, and infatuation.

Based on the debut novel of Irish author Sally Rooney (Normal People), the story encapsulates the intricacies of intimacy, navigating those first adult relationships that can feel so fleeting yet leave a mark on you for the rest of your life. Screenwriter Alice Birch reworks Rooney’s words (as she did with Normal People) into something a little less internalised and more suited to the screen, offering an honest portrayal of a relationship between two characters whose leading trait is an inability to verbalise outside of their art — a dynamic that plays well on the page, but no doubt a significant challenge to translate for series.

In her first onscreen role, Oliver carries much of the emotional weight. Frances is an introverted character who struggles to communicate outside of her poetry, often dragged along by the tide of her confident, charismatic best friend/ex-lover Bobbi. Both Oliver and Lane give strong performances, the former toeing the line between awkward and endearing in a way that makes the chemistry between Frances and Alwyn’s Nick not just believable but palpable.

As Frances and Nick connect over their inability to forge connections, their most open and honest conversations are their tastefully shot if frequently occurring sex scenes. Meanwhile, Bobbi and Melissa dance around each other off-screen. The lack of screentime afforded to Kirke and Lane in the first six episodes of the series is truly a shame, what little interaction we do see between them entertains in a way Alwyn and Oliver’s slow-building and stilted romance never quite manages to capture.

The glacial pacing of the series may prove to be a struggle for some viewers, but ultimately Conversations with Friends is an intriguing exploration of ever-changing levels of intimacy — understated, introspective, yet engaging enough to make it worth the wait.

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The Wilds Season 2

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After ending on a cliffhanger in December 2020 and leaving a slew of unanswered questions, The Wilds fans will finally have the answers they’ve been craving in this long-awaited second instalment of the series.

Season One left us with the revelation that our core group of girls weren’t the only survivors who’d gone through hell for the “Dawn of Eve” experiment — somewhere out there was a control group made up entirely of boys.

Having invested the entire first season in getting to know and love Toni, Shelby, Fatin, Dot, and the girls, the introduction of a second group taking up precious screentime is a risky venture for the showrunners. Doubling the character count seems like a clever way to avoid having to divulge too many secrets at once, instead splitting the story between uncovering the mysteries the girls have stumbled upon while also starting from scratch and introducing each of the boys using the same flashback/flashforward scenarios we saw in Season One.

Ultimately, this new expanding world just creates an unwieldy dynamic, which when paired with the shorter run time of the season leaves us desperate for resolution, with even more questions in the end than answers.

Thanks to solid performances from the cast, we do manage to connect with the newcomers. The chemistry between the girls and guys varies drastically, creating a captivating clash between watching the growing bond between the family of girls as relationships develop and friendships are tested, while the boys are still trying to figure out how to fit together in this strange new world they’ve been thrown into.

In turns thrilling, tense, and vulnerable, the show isn’t afraid to tackle darker themes, dealing with race, homophobia, sexual assault, and abuse alongside lighter, more uplifting moments of friendship, faith and found family.

It’s a rapid-paced race for answers, in many ways still as gripping and emotionally fraught as its predecessor, but hopefully a third season will find more even ground, learning to share the narrative between established characters and the newcomers without feeling like the girls had move aside in order to make room for the boys.

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Ten Percent

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Taking workplace comedy to a whole new level, Ten Percent explores the day-to-day workings of the showbusiness industry, where the lives of the agents behind the scenes are all equally, if not more bizarre, than those of the celebrities they’re trying to corral.

Based on the 2015 series Call My Agent!, the show takes an original French premise and repackages it with a British accent, putting enough of a unique spin on the concept and characters along the way that devoted fans of the original series won’t feel as if they’re watching a pale imitation.

The turbulent world of this London talent agency juggles a slew of big-name celebrities alongside their own interpersonal drama, scrambling to keep the talent happy while never losing focus on what is the ultimate drive of the story—the tightknit family of misfits that make up the Nightingale Hart Agency.

The celebrities aren’t shy about playing exaggerated versions of themselves, but the biggest laughs come from the harried team of agents dealing with impossible situations, more often than not made increasingly worse by their own absurd hijinks.

Receptionist Zoe (Fola Evans-Akingbola) spends her days fielding phone calls and making tea for anxious celebrities, all the while longing to be an actress herself. Fresh faced new assistant Misha (Hiftu Quasem) is desperate to prove herself, while at the same time doing everything she can to hide a secret that could shake the Nightingale Hart team to its core; and Jonathan (Jack Davenport), son of co-founder Richard Nightingale (Jim Broadbent), is just trying to keep his head above water.

Above all, it’s a love letter to films, to theatre, and to the eccentrics who make up the industry, with cameos from a truly impressive line-up of UK stars including Helena Bonham Carter, Dominic West, and Bridgerton’s Phoebe Dynevor to name just a few.

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A Very British Scandal

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In 1963, the Edinburgh court of session was the scene of a groundbreaking trial.

Argyll vs Argyll was the culmination of years of vicious acrimony, betrayals, phone tapping and secrets that was the wreckage of the 16-year relationship between Ian Campbell and Margaret (née Wigham), the Duke and Duchess of Argyll.

Claire Foy brings the character of Margaret to the screen in this latest Amazon Prime miniseries A Very British Scandal. The intensity that captured audiences with her depiction of young Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown and that other fated queen, Ann Boleyn, in Wolf Hall keeps us the riveted to Margaret’s colourful and complex life.

There’s no suspense around the ending because it’s all in the history books, and contemporary tabloids.

We are thrown into the middle of the couple’s battle right from the start when Ian (Paul Bettany) offers to settle out of court, to avoid the horrors of litigation and public scandal.

‘Hadn’t you better take your seat?’ Margaret almost spits the words, and we immediately wonder what caused her to become so implacable. That’s the question, not the ‘what’ but the ‘how’, and we are hooked to go back in time and discover what led to this moment.

Cut to 16 years earlier and there’s a sexy, sophisticated meeting and pickup on a train to Scotland. The characters are confident, attractive and upper class, obviously made for each other, on the surface at least. Margaret is the object of Ian’s pursuit. Foy especially, plays the scene impeccably, helped by the terrific costume, vivid, pretty and tough with the slash of red lipstick and cigarette.

The newspapers are filled with her recent divorce.

‘I’d never let you out of my sight’, says Ian.

Bettany’s characterisation is layered, tragic from war trauma. With a drink problem and two divorces under his belt, he’s hardly a safe bet.

‘I’ll be a perfect gentleman’, he says when she’s about to refuse his invitation to visit his home.

‘In that case I’ll stay at home’.

In that line, delivered tongue in cheek but without a trace of coyness, we see that he has met his match.

The Brits do these period dramas brilliantly, and this one has an especially crisp pace and tightly wound plot.

The series follows on the success of A Very English Scandal, another Amazon Prime offering with Ben Whishaw and Hugh Grant. British has plenty of the same sophistication though with perhaps a little less heart.

Sarah Phelps is the creator and writer. She has a resume of tight, strong TV dramas under her belt, including the series Dublin Murders and Ordeal by Innocence.

Anne Sewitsky is a Norwegian director who didn’t flinch from a strong characterisation of a woman with great appetites who wouldn’t play by the rules in feature Sonja The White Swan.

Their combined styles pack a punch as we follow the Argylls from wedding to scandal.

Back to that fateful train journey… on arrival in Scotland, Margaret is captivated by the ancestral pile of Inveraray Castle, willing to prop up Ian’s struggling finances, and the couple tie the knot.

The action cuts between London and Scotland where we see a glimpse of Margaret’s life as a society woman. That life includes sex with other men. The brief but evocative and mutely lit party scenes are a great backdrop as we enjoy a voyeuristic look at the rich, titled, and entitled aristocracy, and as the marriage unravels, we wonder how much damage can people do to each other.

There are more layers and clues, like a scene with Margaret’s awful mother that triggers her stammer.

Writer and director should be congratulated on the wonderful motif of Margaret’s desk. It’s secret drawers and keys, hidden letters and photographs are a powerful metaphor for the Duchess’s sometimes deadly complexity. She has a lot to contend with.

Ian’s children and the presence of their mother Louise (played with raw cynicism by Sophia Myles) plus his PTSD from the war, means that as a new wife Margaret has inherited more ghosts than Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. Not the least of these is housekeeper Yvonne, still loyal to the ex and seeing through Margaret at every turn.

Yvonne tries to pull Margaret into line, Ian takes her money then wants to move on to another benefactor. It’s a gender role reversal where he is pimping himself out to snare a wealthy match, so often the cliched domain of women.

In an interview with Screen Rant, Bettany said he’d “played good guys for a long run so it was nice to go back and be mean again.”

While Foy steals most of the scenes with her Scarlett O’Hara resilience, Bettany comes into his own as Ian unravels into alcoholism and vicious retribution at her infidelity.

There are beautifully placed key scenes where Margaret is under pressure and criticism from other women. One is a ladies’ powder room where she is warned off by wife number one. Another is an envious society hostess sneering at Margaret’s sexually liberated activities.

The scenes are pivotal and character defining. Margaret won’t be put off and is far from being cowed.

‘I like sex and I’m good at it’, she states, unapologetic.

In the end this is what the court case and trial by judge and public is based on. A sexually active woman is regarded as ‘deviant’ by the Judge, a Jesuit and friend of Ian’s.

‘I drink the usual amount’, Ian feels entitled to say in court, after we have witnessed him in the worst stages of alcoholism. ‘My wife is unfaithful’, is all he needs to add, reflecting the unbending double standards of the time. Apparently, Ian and his doctor had conspired to put the duchess in a lunatic asylum — a bid which was foiled by Margaret’s own doctor.

The case was notorious as being the first time a woman was publicly shamed by the UK media. Footage of the Duchess herself at the conclusion is startling after watching the story, and gives a hint of her steely strength.

Foy told Vanity Fair about walking a thin line from playing the impeccable manners of that ultimate aristocrat Elizabeth II, but drew on the disconnect between Margaret’s very racy private life and her persona.

“She’s very proper and very put together. She’s not what you think the archetypal promiscuous woman is supposed to be like,” says Foy. “It’s quite difficult to try and translate that to a modern audience — that was her interior life in a way.”

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All the Old Knives

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CIA operatives and ex-lovers Henry Pelham (Chris Pine) and Celia Harrison (Thandiwe Newton) sit down to dinner together at a seaside restaurant, hoping to reconnect after years apart. Over a lavish meal, Henry’s inquiries veer from the personal to the professional, and the quiet catch-up swerves into interrogation territory as Henry searches for explanations to his unanswered questions regarding a disastrous plane hijacking that they worked together eight years ago.

Trying to connect the pieces of a case that never sat quite right, Henry and Celia embark on a twisting tale of spy-vs-spy, where each new answer leads to more questions, and years of trading in secrets and lies makes it impossible to know who to trust.

Writer Olen Steinhauer (The Tourist) adapts his own novel of the same name for the screen, taking a non-linear route to divulge the many secrets that his characters have been keeping. The main story is told in flashbacks, which leads to a slow and messy beginning. As each new layer is revealed across the dinner table, however, what began as a disorienting and somewhat dull blow-by-blow of events quickly becomes a tense, smart and increasingly absorbing tale of intrigue and betrayal.

A far cry from the James Bond-esque brand of spy films, All the Old Knives’ tension comes from an atmosphere of mounting unease rather than explosions or gunfights. Director Janus Metz Pedersen (True Detective) together with cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen (A Quiet Place) create a suspenseful and emotionally intense environment out of what is ultimately a static setting; the use of extreme close-ups managing to highlight both the intimacy between the leads and the increasing claustrophobia of the situation.

All the elements of a thriller are present and accounted for — mystery, romance, betrayal — but by restricting the espionage entirely to flashbacks while the real-time story unfolds between the main course and dessert, the film hinges on the connection between the two leads sitting across from one another at the dinner table. Thankfully Pine and Newton share a captivating chemistry, and their interactions are enjoyable enough to keep the slow unfolding of the plot from dragging too heavily.

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I Want You Back

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Charlie Day and Jenny Slate have come a long way since appearing in the likes of Horrible Bosses and Alvin & The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. Their respective chaotic energies that have made them so memorable in the stand-up and sitcom spheres have allowed them an equally magnetic presence in film. So, the notion of pairing them together, in a rom-com no less, makes sense on the surface, especially with a knowingly-silly plot around them.

Day and Slate as Peter and Emma respectively, are the worst-case scenario for the recently-dumped; they are so not over their past relationships that they’ve teamed up to sabotage the new relationships of their exes (Gina Rodriguez and Scott Eastwood) in the vain hope of getting them back. In terms of the standard rom-com formula, which usually amounts to playing the waiting game before the two leads realise how into each other they are, the premise at least gives some justification for said waiting game because they are clearly not ready for a new relationship yet. And their chemistry together, while occasionally cancelling each other out, brings just enough of their screen personas to the table to make the gags work.

But in between the surprisingly-faithful middle school musical, the fitness montages, and taking the molly train to Jailbait Town, what writers Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger (who also penned the resonant Love, Simon) have to say about the characters, their circumstances, and just love in general, isn’t all that incisive. They take a rather blasé attitude towards the frankly ridiculous emotional problems of the leads, which starts out alright as a foundation for the comedy, but continues to wear thin the longer it goes on. It’s not a story that particularly needs to be pushing towards two hours in running time, especially since the resolution for it ends up compacted into the last ten minutes.

It doesn’t help that the bulk of the film’s ideas can be boiled down to the leads’ immaturities and being comfortable with themselves before they can be comfortable with anyone else. It’s the Judd Apatow formula all over again, only here, the memorable scenes are few (Jenny Slate singing and a surprise Pete Davidson appearance are about it), and as a result of the formula being so well-worn by now, there’s already far better examples of it out there (Sleeping With Other People comes to mind, with its similarly-unprepared-for-a-relationship leads).

I Want You Back is okay. It’s your bog-standard rom-com that largely hangs any entertainment on its cast, which they are admittedly well-equipped to do. The inevitable sense of déjà vu is likely to put more discerning audiences off. There’s nothing all that wrong with it, and within its frequently tacky sub-genre, that itself might be worthy of praise, but not enough for audiences to seek it out. Best to just stumble upon it.

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