Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” looks like a peroxided “Clueless” wannabe straggling along to the party two years after it’s over. Desperately uncertain in tone and able to generate only sporadic laughs, pic decks out its meager story of revenge and comeuppance with a vulgar, flashy shimmer that will no doubt attract teenage girls, or the core “Clueless” audience. Some good early returns are therefore likely, but the film’s own legs don’t reckon to be nearly as long as those of its statuesque heroines.
First feature by vet TV writer-director-producer David Mirkin falls deeply in the shadow of the season’s — and the same studio’s — other high school reunion comedy, the mordant and audacious “Grosse Pointe Blank.” But even without that comparison to draw, this almost desperately cheery comedy proves tiresome and mildly depressing because it is about absolutely nothing other than the immediate concerns of the two dim bulbs at its center, whose empty lives inspire them to contrive to impress their old schoolmates with a ruse concerning fabulous wealth and accomplishment.
Best friends since high school and roommates for a decade since then, Romy (Mira Sorvino) and Michele (Lisa Kudrow), with their dyed blond manes, gaudy wardrobes and vapid small talk, are virtual caricatures of Hollywood bimbos, but they somehow haven’t even managed to be successful in that role. Romy, a cashier at a BevHills Jaguar repair shop, seems marginally brighter than her friend, who can’t land a job, but neither, unaccountably, seems able even to get a date.
As the two confront the prospect of returning to Tucson for their 10th high school reunion, pic employs a nifty device in having yearbook photos come to life to illustrate how the two friends didn’t fit in with any group as teens, and were particularly tormented by the A group of snotty, jock-dating girls.
But these high school flashbacks are noticeably unconvincing and off-key, and subsequent section in which the deluded dolls furiously work out at the gym, urgently try to score boyfriends and, in Michele’s case, find a job, before they realize they can just pretend they’ve got same, is especially grim.
Of course, it’s all just buildup to the trip to Arizona and their grand scheme to pass themselves off as the fabulously rich inventors of Post-its, but by then it’s already far too late. Robin Schiff’s screenplay was obviously never intended to be a significant social document for our times, but it lacks any realistic basis at all from which the satire and even general comedy can flow.
There is never the slightest mention of how the women have gotten by all these years, of any past romantic involvement on either of their parts, of the nature of their own relationship or their hopes for the future.
Romy and Michele have a big fight before they hit Tucson, and, once they arrive at Sagebrush High, fabulously dressed as impressive businesswomen, their deception doesn’t last long, uncovered by the class cynic and curmudgeon (Janeane Garofalo). One mild surprise concerning the fate of the nerd who always admired Michele somewhat enlivens the party, especially in a genuinely funny dance the girls share with him, but mostly it’s a predictable matter of settling old scores, seeing high school bullies being cut down to size and establishing new confidence in the leads.
Mirkin’s direction often betrays his sitcom background, and while the production and costume design emphasize such color combos as pink, green and yellow for deliberate purposes, the effect remains mildly nauseating all the same.
Sorvino and Kudrow get off some good, blank takes and the occasional dumb line readings that will provoke mirth among those with an easy appetite for the comedy of recognition. But there are only postures, not real characters, here. Garofalo, as a misfit ironically named Heather, lets loose with some zingers that put her at the head of the class.