I just don't know who to root for.

 

Dumber and Dumber

Romy and Michele tries to be
a smart movie about stupid characters.

by Coury Turczyn

 

Since when did stupid people become the dominant type of characters for movies? How did it come to be that dim bulbs have become our leading lights?

They're everywhere, from the heroic heights of the mighty Forrest Gumps to the pathetic meanderings of the lowly Ace Venturas–with every Tom (Arnold), Dick (Pauly Shore), and Woody (Harrelson) in between. Could it be that we're so pathetic that we need to feel superior to movie characters? Or has public taste found new depths to sink to?

Don't get me wrong–a well-made silly movie is a thing to be cherished; Duck Soup and Airplane! are just as "classic" as any serious drama. But these days, it appears that Hollywood doesn't stop at being merely silly–it's presenting plots and dialogue that are just as stupid as its main characters, leaving audiences with a string of movies entirely lacking in any kind of craft. I'm sorry, but crap like Kingpin or The Stupids is so devoid of even basic storytelling elements it ought to be used in psychological warfare campaigns during hostage situations.

Romy and Michele's High School Reunion makes a valiant effort to turn back this tide, trying to be a smart comedy about less-than-smart characters. Sadly, the results are only pleasantly mediocre, with very few laughs and even fewer surprises.

Romy (Mira Sorvino) and Michele (Lisa Kudrow) are best friends whose conversations typically revolve around how cute they are. Ten years before, after they had graduated from high school, they moved together to Los Angeles to live the good life–going to dance clubs, looking for cute boys, and dressing up. When they discover their high school reunion is coming up, it presents a dilemma: a decade later, they still aren't successes. How can they go back to see the people who used to make fun of them for being freaks? Therefore, they decide to concoct imaginary careers for themselves and impress everybody.

While this isn't a bad scenario, Romy and Michele's High School Reunion doesn't take it very far outside those parameters–it wants to offer us a sympathetic portrayal of two airheads, but it doesn't shed much light on their lives. It's like a series of Saturday Night Live skits stuck together instead of a flowing narrative–which might've worked if the jokes were funny enough to carry the scenes by themselves, but they're not. What we get are some very pleasant sequences that aren't all that humorous or informative. Which means it's pretty dull stuff.

Originally a hit Los Angeles play (Ladies' Room) written by Robin Schiff, the movie version still feels dialogue-driven. Schiff's intent is to enter the California Barbie-girl milieu of Romy and Michele and show us what kinds of thoughts enter their pneumatic heads, how they reason things out. This is mildly amusing when, for instance, they argue over who is the "Mary" and who is the "Rhoda." But none of this mildly amusing dialogue ever goes anywhere–we never learn anything more about these two people. And there isn't enough action added to make up for the empty spaces.

Likewise, the scene that is intended to be the movie's bang-up comedy extravaganza–the high school reunion–falls almost completely flat. Earlier in the movie, we are introduced to all of Romy and Michele's antagonists via flashback sequences to their high school life circa 1986. But there is little payoff when we finally meet them again at the reunion–because none of them have changed a whit in 10 years. They may have different haircuts, and the trio of "Heathers" who make fun of Romy and Michele are now pregnant, but it's as if none of them have aged or grown in the last decade. What's so funny about that? Even the '80s-era pop songs chosen for the scene are numbingly familiar and obvious ("Time After Time"? "Karma Chameleon"? "Heaven is a Place on Earth"? Somebody should've told the producer to check out the Grosse Pointe Blank soundtrack.)

Sorvino and Kudrow do treat their characters with respect–they never overplay the stupidity factor to annoying levels. In fact, Sorvino's Romy is downright likable in a sad sort of way–she is diligently optimistic despite her lack of any kind of talent. Kudrow, however, does little more than repeat her insipid character from Friends, using "duh" as sort of a catch-all punchline. Thankfully, Janeane Garofalo appears every once in a while to infuse a little energy into the proceedings, swearing up a storm as a bad attitude girl, but it's not enough.

Despite a thankfully absurd dance sequence at picture's end, Romy and Michele's High School Reunion never quite attains that perfect blend of inspired silliness. At the very least, it was a sincere attempt to look at stupid characters in an honest way. Coming up next in the assembly of stupid characters are two oafs played by Danny Glover and Joe Pesci in Gone Fishin' who are too stupid to figure out how to fish without causing mass destruction. Can't wait.

 

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