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Cinema in Focus: ‘You Again’

The film explores the often painful realities of high school, and later the need for apologies and forgiveness

3 Stars — Thought-Provoking

Comedy is the art of taking the subtle and making it humorously obvious. That is what director Andy Fickman and writer Moe Jelline do to the world of dysfunctional female relationships in their film You Again.

Suggesting that the experiences of high school can haunt a person for years, the film explores how this happens in the life of a young woman, as well as her middle-age mother and her elderly grandmother.

Although high school is difficult for most of us, it was devastating for Marni (Kristen Bell). Plagued with adolescent acne, braces and horn-rimmed glasses, Marni becomes the object of head cheerleader JJ’s (Odette Yustman) bullying arrogance. Helping her overcome the attack on her self-esteem, Marni’s brother Will (James Wolk) provides life-changing encouragement.

As a young adult, Marni has remade herself into a successful, confident and beautiful professional woman. But her past catches up with her when she discovers that her brother becomes engaged to marry JJ, now using her full name Joanna.

Although this would be enough of a set up for the comedy, the plot thickens when Marni’s mother, Gail (Jamie Lee Curtis), is also confronted with her past when she meets Joanna’s aunt Ramona (Sigourney Weaver), who turns out to be her arch rival from high school as well. It is this dual storyline that creates the humor and lessons in the tale.

The lessons learned are helpful: No amount of good deeds can make up for the bad ones if we don’t take responsibility for what we’ve done and reconcile with the people we hurt; apologies are always necessary when we’ve disrespected or betrayed someone; forgiveness sets us free from the trauma we experienced years earlier; honesty is necessary in a healthy relationship; and everyone does deserve a second chance.

The casting and writing of the film are excellent, but the lack of any sense of spiritual strength or guidance in healing these traumatic relationship breakdowns causes the film to lack depth or insight. But that is not to say that You Again doesn’t provide a redemptive tale with forgiveness and reconciliation as its final word.

The disruption in the lives of the characters due to their continuing struggle with one another portrays a powerful lesson about the capacity of trauma and guilt to disrupt our lives. It is only as they become honest and caring with one another that they find peace. That is true in all of our lives.

Discussion:

» When Mark (Victor Garber) confronts his wife and daughter over their outrageous antics, he states that he is “frightened and confused by their behavior.” Did you experience their behavior as frightening or confusing or did you identify with them?

» When Joanna loses both of her parents at such a young age, she explains that she looked at her life and wanted to become a person they would be proud of. Do you believe that living to please our parents (whether living or dead) is enough motivation to change our lives or does relying on God’s strength and guidance provide more help?

» When Marni reveals the truth about Joanna as a teenager, she betrays both herself and her brother. What would you have done if you had been in her place?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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