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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

17 Again

The very thought of being 17 Again makes me want to barf. Why in the world anyone would want to relive their teen years, even the later ones, is beyond me. Sure, I can get behind the idea that Jake Gyllenhaal would now be the older man in my life and when I came to babysit those Witherspoon kids and he asked if I needed a ride after he and Reese arrived home from whatever big Hollywood premiere they’d attended, it wouldn’t be nearly as nasty if I made a move on him as a reconstituted 17 year old than if I did it now, in my Mrs. Doubtfire years. Other than that salacious fantasy, and the hundred or so others than I can imagine starring everyone from Barack Obama to Hugh Jackman, the negatives of such a “gift” far outweigh the benefits.

Would I really want to suffer through college a second time? I was born with a silver spoon in the kid in the incubator next to me’s mouth, so when I went to University I had to work my derriere off, and my job was a real soap opera. No, I mean it. I worked for a real soap opera, one that for the sake of all the guilty parties shall remain nameless. For those of us working there, the Days of our Lives were usually spent squirreled away for as long as 14 hours at a time in a single studio, with no idea if it was light or dark outside, but most of us were Young and Restless, so we handled the long hours pretty well (with the help of a few pharmaceutical encouragements as needed). Occasionally someone would overdose on something and the studio grunt would be forced to pack whoever it was into their car and rush them to the General Hospital down the street and then the show’s producer would call everyone together and give us this canned speech about how we only had One Life to Live and we had best focus on whatever Guiding Light there was in our personal lives to “Just Say No.” It was all very ‘Nancy Reagan’ and very relevant to the time period. I wonder what kind of spiel we’d get these days. “When you get to the hospital just tell ‘em ‘I’ve got ADHD and I’ve got a prescription for this sh*t. I must have accidently taken too many.’

I think it would be a whole lot harder for someone who is 17 now to be 17 Again back when I was 17 the first time. Let these little darlings suffer through a year without computers as a resource for their school research, and then as a tool to cut and paste that data into their term papers. Imagine a teenager today living without a cell phone ~ Twitter©-free, sans Facebook©, without a single MySpace© page or Craigslist© post to ogle while in class. There’d be no Hot Pockets®, DVDs, or videogames to entertain them. The only Wii® anybody would be doing in the basement back in my time is when Uncle Bill has too much to drink again and mistakes the broom closet for a bathroom for the gazillionth time.

Still, I envy Mike O’Donnell, the character who is at the center of
17 Again. As an adult, he is played by one of America’s favorite “Friends,” Matthew Perry (Birds of America), and while Mike hardly seems like someone to envy, that all turns around when the magic happens. Grown-up Mike is being divorced by his wife of twenty years, Scarlett (Leslie Mann; Drillbit Taylor), who is fed up with his lack of commitment and follow-through on promises he has made to her over the years. His kids don’t seem to have much use for the guy either. Daughter Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg; Young Americans) resents her father’s very existence, especially since she is now hot and heavy in a relationship with a guy named Stan (Hunter Parrish; tv’s “Weeds”), a bullying smartass who will probably grow up and change his name to Dick Cheney. All she cares about is spending every waking moment attached to Stan’s hip. Fortunately, so far, it’s only his hip she’s been attached to. Meanwhile, Mike’s son Alex (Sterling Knight; tv’s "Sonny with a Chance") is living proof that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. He is as removed and uninvolved with his family as his father has been with him. The adult Mike could promise Alex just about anything and all Alex would hear would be the trumpeting “blah, blah, blah, blah, blah” of Charlie Brown’s teacher.

But when that unexplainable magic does happen and the regretful, forlorn, and just plain worn-out Matthew Perry Mike is transformed into his teenaged Zac Efron (High School Musical 3: Senior Year) self everything changes for the better. For one thing, it turns out his best friend is zillionaire software developer Ned Gold (Thomas Lennon; tv’s “Reno: 911"), a child-man at best, who sleeps in a bed made out of a Star Wars hover craft like the one Luke Skywalker used to traverse the planet Tatooine. He had already offered “big” Mike a place to stay considering Scarlett was giving him the boot, but for a teenager this is all the better. Ned is game for anything, so once he adapts to “little” Mike, he is even ready to play “Dad” and arrange for his newfound “son,” renamed ‘Mark’, to enroll in high school.

This is where the envious part comes in. With a
boost from Ned’s cash, Mike/Mark shows up at school in a sharp new sports car and a slick wardrobe to match (okay, after an initial Day of Disaster, but this is a comedy after all). I know I wouldn’t have minded having a wealthy man (who wasn’t expecting sex in return) offering to cough up big bucks to give me a new car and wardrobe when I was that age. Can you imagine?

There is a lot more to
17 Again than the simple age switch and the obvious laughs that Efron can milk from that. The uncomfortable libidinous twinges that ‘Mark’ brings out in Scarlett are chuckle-worthy but also a tad icky to think about in our real world full of salacious child abuse and even the vague idea of Zac Efron having an erection yet alone a penis would probably make two-thirds of his target audience break down and cry. On the other hand, that other third, mostly gay men begging for a jock slip in those scenes when Efron’s wearing those basketball shorts and bouncing around on the court, may be disappointed since this is a Disney movie and the closest it comes to anything too close to crossing any lines is a scene in which Maggie, ‘Mark’s daughter, gets a little frisky for ‘Mark’, unaware, naturally, that he is the magically reinvented version of her own Dad. Ewww.

Best of all is finding out what a great surprise Efron turns out to be as an actor. I knew he could sing and dance and look real pretty in magazines all around the world, but that has also opened him up to great parody and enough ridicule that his actual talents as an actor have never really been strongly tested before now. Believe it or not,
17 Again has a couple of poignant moments, and one in particular was enough to bring a tear to this cold-hearted critic’s eye. It caught me totally off guard, but I found myself moved by Efron’s delivery and ability to hold just the right level of emotion in an incredible scene with his “adult” wife who is in the process of divorcing his “missing” adult self. It could have come off as way too over the top or not nearly heartfelt enough, but Efron nails it perfectly, probably as well as any veteran actor might or even better. It is an amazing moment to watch as he reminisces about his long married life to the woman in front of him, old enough to be his mother. He imbues his lines with such tenderness that you will believe without a doubt that he really has spent twenty years dedicated to this woman even if it appears physically impossible.

I don’t think
17 Again has convinced me to wish for a return to the good old bad old days at Rancho High School. As much fun as it was to be a slutty cheerleader (our team was the Rancho Rams, so we would bend over, shake our pom poms, and cheer “Ram me! Ram me! Ram me!”), the whole dealing with parents thing, going to class, studying, coping with asshat teachers and principals, the sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, dickheads, you know, all those Ferris Bueller types. Granted, it would be nice to see my waist again and my boobs somewhere other than pointing south, but one of the best parts of growing old is that you get too tired to care for more than a few minutes a day, and during those brief interludes I can just pop a High School Musical dvd into the player until I forget why I’m watching, which ought to take abou—oh, look at that pretty butterfly!

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