Monday, January 18, 2021

Movie review: 17 Again


Release date (wide): April 17, 2009 … Overall: B- … Teens: B … Story: C+.

The film was shown in 3,255 theaters on its opening weekend.

Box office tracking info:

Starring: Zac Efron, Matthew Perry, Leslie Mann, Thomas Lennon, Michelle Trachtenberg, Sterling Knight, Melora Hardin
Director: Burr Steers
Screenwriter: Jason Filardi
Producer: Adam Shankman, Jennifer Gibgot
Composer: Rolfe Kent
Studio: New Line Cinema
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (language, some sexual material and teen partying)


If you go to see this body switch movie, which resembles “It’s a Wonderful Life” in some respects and “Big” (in reverse) in others, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Matthew Perry plays Mike, a middle-aged man with a wife, two kids (I didn’t see a dog), and so on. He was a basketball star in high school but gave up on his scholarship dreams to marry his sweetheart. Now, he’s unhappy with his life all-around (his wife is divorcing him, his kids don’t want to spend time with him, and his career is going downhill fast).

What he needs is a body switch, so Hollywood delivers. On a visit to his former high school, he peers into the trophy case and sees a picture of his high school championship team. A janitor jumps off a bridge and provides other vortexes at convenient moments, and behold! Mike is transformed into his younger self (played by Zac Efron). This casting is incomprehensible to me: How could Matthew Perry ever look like Zac Efron? Especially when Efron takes his basketball jersey off for all the teen girls in the theater to squeal (it worked perfectly, by the way). Anyway, Efron is perfectly cast as the younger version of our protagonist.

Also well cast is his lifelong buddy Nick (Thomas Lennon). He’s a software millionaire, and the younger Mike shows up at his house and manages to convince him that he has, through the intervention of a miracle, been transformed into a high school kid again, ostensibly to choose a different path to a happier adult existence (like going to college, and so on). Nick reluctantly fills in as Mike’s dad and registers him at the high school. As far as the other adults go, Mike’s wife is amazed that his younger version looks exactly like the person she married. This plays for a few good laughs, where Mike hugs her like his adult self, and also where he explains his appearance by pretending to be the son of an uncle, or something like that. It makes about as much sense as a guy jumping off a bridge and drying off as a 17-year-old version of himself, so we’ll let it stand. Look, you’re going to have to wave a magic wand in order to make a plot like this work.

Moments between the younger Mike at high school with his current son and daughter, helping them cope with the problems teens face, are rather touching and very well done. This recognition of the effort it takes to raise a family or keep a marriage working give the film a sense of direction. What also makes the film much more than the copy promised by the opening scenes is Lennon’s comic touch, especially as seen in the interactions with the principal of Mike’s school (played by Melora Hardin). She’s resistant to dating the parents of her students, but their first date results in moments that true nerds would consider paradise. Very nice. However, what is somewhat disturbing is the school’s health teacher passing out a basket of condoms as he pretty much abandons a lesson plan that calls for abstinence education. This moment gives the younger Mike a chance to stand up for teenage sexual values, but it makes the film less acceptable for the under-13 crowd.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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