Courtesy Photo
Directed by David Mirkin

Starring Mira Sorvino, Lisa Kudrow, Janeane Garofalo & Alan Cummings.

This film is on the Best of 1997 list.
"Romy & Michele's
High School Reunion"

Opened: April 25, 1997 | Rated: R

Would you believe me if I said "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion" is the funniest, most entertaining movie so far this year? If you've seen the same previews as I have, probably not. So how else can I put this?

While it contains everything you expect from a reunion movie (the bitchy prom queens, the nostalgic soundtrack), "Romy and Michele" has a broad and biting sense of humor. It never goes quite in the expected direction and rarely hangs its laughs on topical humor.

Adapted by playwright Robin Schiff from characters she created for a stage comedy called "Ladies Room" (which also starred Kudrow in the late 1980s), "Romy and Michele" is brimming with clever transitions and creative story-telling.

It has for central characters two endearing -- albeit vapid -- 27-year-olds (Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow) who are very nervous about making a splash at their 10th class reunion.

Romy (Sorvino) doesn't think her job as a receptionist at a Jaguar dealership is likely to impress. Michele (Kudrow), an inordinate dress maker, is unemployed.

When Romy hears about their impeding reunion from a successful but bitter classmate (Janeane Garofalo, the greatest sourpuss working in movies today) who has her Jag in the shop, it sets off an evening of yearbook remembrances that turn into painful and daffy flashbacks. Putting an old-fashioned gimmick to fresh use, Romy and Michele flip through their yearbook and the pictures come to life.

Sorvino and Kudrow play their dim-witted heroines as not having learned much since high school except self-confidence, which erodes quickly at the thought of seeing the snobby "A" crowd of jocks and cheerleaders again.

They try, in the two weeks they have before their trek from L.A. to hometown Tucson, to find better jobs and rich boyfriends they can brag about.

Michele, wearing one of her own outrageous designs applies for a job at a Rodeo Drive Versace boutique, while Romy fills out a contestant application for MTV's dating game "Singled Out," only to be told "Our cut off (age) is 25. Try VH-1."


Failing at quickie success, the girls console themselves with a night of ice cream and cookie dough (straight from the tube), then reinvent themselves as faux business women -- the creators of Post-It notes. The scam that lasts about 10 minutes at the reunion -- as long as it takes Garofalo to show up, all cigarette smoke and naysaying.

Two weeks ago I said that "Grosse Pointe Blank", this year's other '80s class reunion comedy, while unevenly funny, was likely the better of the two. I couldn't have been more wrong. "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion" is a surprisingly spot-on satire that never relies on '80s in-jokes. None of the laughs are dependent on having spent one's formative years with Molly Ringwald.

There are few surprises once Romy and Michele arrive in Tucson, but who wants them? There are rules to the reunion genre every bit as much as there are rules to horror movies. The cruel "A"-list girls must get their comeuppance. The jock Romy fawned over as a teen must have a beer belly. And the class nerd must be a multi-millionaire.

The trick is to work within these rules to keep the material fresh and this is where "Romy and Michele" excels. Director David Mirkin (a television veteran whose resume includes "The Simpsons" and "The Larry Sanders Show") finesses a few arbitrary plot twists that come just when the audience is expecting the formula fare.

Romy and Michele get in a spat over who is cutest ("I'm the Mary! You're the Rhoda."). Michele has a dream that seems part of the linear plot until events become just too weird and we start to suspect something is amiss. Mirkin has fun fiddling with the expected.

But what carries "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion" are the performances. Kudrow (doing her trademark ditz) and Sorvino (in her best role since winning the Oscar for "Mighty Aphrodite") are the most affable airheads since Alicia Silverstone in "Clueless," and play off each other like a Bing Crosby and Bob Hope with attention deficit disorder (although these partners stick to the script).

Garofalo, no surprise, steals every scene she's in. But instead of derailing the movie by standing out, she adds to it because her character is meant to be the spoiler.

Toward the end, "Romy and Michele" pulls off one of the most difficult stunts in comedy -- successfully stretching a joke (the girls and the class nerd voguing on the dance floor) way beyond what should logically be funny. This scene spotlights the movie's dexterity. It just keeps getting funnier without really covering any new ground.

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