Those bemoaning the lack of quality female roles in modern-day Hollywood will find a key cause celebre in “You Again,” which manages to squander three generations of formidable actresses. Kristen Bell, Sigourney Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kristin Chenoweth and Betty White are wasted in this farce exploring deep-seated high-school enmities, and while the strength of those names may attract ticketbuyers to the Disney release, word of mouth is sure to stem the tide before significant returns can be procured.
A decently amusing prologue introduces Bell as gawky, acne-ravaged teenager Marni, bullied and battered by queen-bee mean girl Joanna (Odette Yustman) in high school. Flash forward to the present day, and she’s a dazzlingly dressed agent at a Hollywood PR firm, returning home to Northern California to see her brother (James Wolk) get married.
His betrothed turns out to be none other than Marni’s high school tormentor, who is now affecting an angelic personality, is beloved by Marni’s mother, Gail (Curtis), and is seemingly unable to remember her old classmate. Joanna’s aunt Ramona (Weaver) comes to dinner that night, and it’s immediately clear that she and Gail have similar high-school baggage. These two sets of nemeses proceed to bicker and conspire childishly until the film ends.
Joanna at first seems to have transformed wholly from her bullying ways, even describing how her parents’ untimely deaths led her to a career in nursing and volunteer work. At other times, she reveals her still-thriving cruelty and suggests the nice-girl act is all just a ruse to hoodwink Marni’s brother into marriage. Attending four years of nursing school and killing off one’s parents seem rather elaborate measures to annoy an old classmate, but it’s nothing a sudden third-act character change can’t cure.
Other figures are sketched out primarily by having Marni reference their jobs and accomplishments (“How’s Richmond’s star legal eagle?” “You’re one of Forbes’ 100 most powerful women!”), though setups for the film’s slapstick setpieces are even lazier: At the height of a climactic, nearly violent fight, Marni abruptly announces that her feet hurt, and sits down, her back to her adversary, next to a giant vat of unidentified green goo.
Even this pales in comparison with the film’s two musical numbers, one of which has Joanna in a cheerleader outfit performing a squirm-inducing matrimony-themed rap set to Kriss Kross’ “Jump” at a wedding rehearsal dinner.
Working from a first-produced screenplay by Moe Jelline, director Andy Fickman swings from sappiness to cartoonish slapstick, accompanied by clumsy music cues in nearly every scene, even breaking out sleigh bells at the very mention of Christmas. Other technical contributions are solidly boilerplate, though the editing lacks the snap and timing light comedy requires.
Most of the actresses will emerge unscathed. But young lead Bell — a likable, talented thesp with wonderful comic timing and exquisite (if non-threatening) beauty — is fresh off another romantic-comedy misfire, “When in Rome,” and will need to make smarter choices to translate her natural appeal in a bigscreen career.