'I Want You Back' review: Charlie Day, Jenny Slate do romcom right

Jilted lovers hatch plan to win back their exes in refreshingly funny romantic comedy.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

A shining example of a romantic comedy done right, "I Want You Back" is a pure winner, a romcom with laughs, heart, a strong cast and characters you grow to care about.

See, now is that so hard? 

Charlie Day and Jenny Slate in "I Want You Back."

Given the amount of romantic comedy duds that find their way onto our screens, apparently it is. But screenwriters Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, working with director (and Franklin native) Jason Orley ("Big Time Adolescence"), weave together a funny, relatable tale of modern love, its ups and downs, the ruts we get stuck in in our everyday lives and how we find a way to dig our way out of them. 

Charlie Day, whose manic comic energy usually resembles the electric charge on a taser, dials way down as Peter, a 30-something in Atlanta who as the movie opens is being dumped by his girlfriend, Anne (Gina Rodriguez). Similarly, Emma (the magnificent Jenny Slate) has just been dumped by her boyfriend, Noah (Scott Eastwood).

Peter and Emma randomly meet in the stairwell of the office building they both work in and commiserate over their breakups. They decide to hang out together, and over karaoke and too much booze they launch an ambitious, ridiculous plan to win back their exes.

Peter befriends Noah, a go-get-em personal trainer, while Emma's plan involves seducing Anne's new boyfriend Logan (Manny Jacinto) by hanging around the middle school where he works and volunteering on the drama club's production of "Little Shop of Horrors." Not many could believably parlay that scheme into a hilarious yet moving and oddly heartfelt rendition of "Suddenly Seymour," but Slate is a uniquely gifted actor, and she sparkles here. 

"I Want You Back" doesn't present a love triangle, its setup is more like a love trapezoid, but Orley keeps everything on track with an approach and style that has modern sensibilities but also pays homage to genre classics such as "When Harry Met Sally" and "Sleepless in Seattle." Some films can come off cynical about their subjects, but "I Want You Back" is clearly a fan of love, and it radiates a warmth that comes through its characters and its scenarios.  

Viewers can of course see where "I Want You Back" is headed before its characters can, but that's part of its charm. It effectively captures that time in your 30s when people don't want to start fresh and they choose comfort, both romantically and professionally, over any type of personal challenge. But at what cost?   

Its cast is an across-the-board joy — Scott Eastwood, who usually comes across bland or unknowable, has never been put to better use — and is propped up by a cameo or two that throw some welcome surprises into the mix. "I Want You Back" is a buoyant, fun comedy with love on its brain and a song in its heart. In a word, it's delightful. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'I Want You Back'

GRADE: B+

Rated R: for language, sexual material, some drug use and partial nudity

Running time: 111 minutes

On Amazon Prime Video