Life is not going all that well for Mike O’Donnell (Matthew Perry). His life didn’t quite pan out as he thought it would and he’s now uncool, about to be officially divorced from teen sweetheart Scarlett (Leslie Mann) and is simply embarrassing to his kids. And he’s also sleeping on the sofa of his ridiculously rich friend (Thomas Lennon). What happened? When he was 17 his future seemed bright, full of possibilities and big rewards but he gave it all up for love and responsibility. Given the chance to do everything over it seems obvious that he’d make different choices. Right?
A remake of Young Again (a TV movie that was made in the lead up to the peak cycle of this type of film that included the classic Big as well as the likes of Vice Versa, Like Father Like Son and, of course, 18 Again!), this will probably play out to modern audiences as a male version of 13 Going On 30, but with the switch working in reverse. And with Zac Efron (who stars as 17 year old Mike) in it.
What may surprise many, and certainly surprised me, is just how easy this movie is to enjoy. There’s very little preamble here – we get to see Mike at 17 making the biggest decision of his life, we get to see him fail in his adult life and then a janitor (Brian Doyle-Murray) enables Mike to revert to his younger self, leading to all of the inevitable complications and fun you can begin to imagine.
The cast are all pretty great. I like Matthew Perry and he’s just as good here, though he’s only onscreen for about 10 minutes at most. Zac Efron is so good at almost everything that it makes me sick but he’s great at the comedy, does well in recreating the mannerisms of his older incarnation and is believable in the moments when he gets to show that he can actually be a cool kid again. Leslie Mann has many uncomfortable scenes alongside a teenager who she doesn’t know is the husband still in love with her. Sterling Knight is great as Mike’s son, needing help through his high school years, while Michelle Trachtenberg does nothing to convince me that she shouldn’t immediately go back to the non-famous, non-acting lifestyle she clearly never should have left. Then we have Thomas Lennon, I can’t remember the last time that a secondary character stole the show by such a margin with such a consistently great comedy performance. He is superb and his scenes with Melora Hardin (playing a principal that he takes a liking to) are elevated by the rapport between the two of them.
Jason Filardi has certainly developed his funny bone since writing Bringing Down The House and the movie is full of great little character tics, one-liners and past moments echoing in the present.
Director Burr Steers is gifted with the great cast and solid material so it would seem that he can’t really do too much wrong but points to the man for not ruining everything anyway.
It’s light, it’s relatively inoffensive (though a teen version of Mike trying to get close to his wife makes for some squirming, as does his teen daughter considering him a hot new kid on the block), it’s often very predictable and everything is accepted a bit too easily. But it’s also a hell of a lot of fun, thanks in no small part to Thomas Lennon and the hugely talented Zac Efron.
DIRECTOR: BURR STEERS
STARS: ZAC EFRON, THOMAS LENNON, LESLIE MANN, MICHELLE TRACHTENBERG, MATTHEW PERRY, STERLING KNIGHT
RUNTIME: 102 MINS APPROX