Film Review: 17 Again
In 2009, Burr Steers released 17 Again, which starred Matthew Perry, Zac Efron, Leslie Mann, Allison Miller, Michelle Trachtenberg, Sterling Knight, Thomas Lennon, Melora Hardin, Hunter Parrish, Jim Gaffigan, Kat Graham, Tiyha Sicar, Melissa Ordway, Josie Loren, Nicole Sullivan, and Brian Doyle-Murray. Grossing $139.3 million at the box office, the film was nominated for the Kids’ Choice Awards for Favorite Movie Star, the MTV Movie Awards for Best Male Performance, and the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Comedy Movie. It won the BMI Film & TV Film Music Award and the Teen Choice Awards for Choice Movie Actor: Comedy and Choice Movie Rockstar Moment
Mike O’Donnell is the star of his high school basketball team while his girlfriend is the hottest girl in school and he’s about to be offered a basketball scholarship. However, said girlfriend is pregnant and he decides to walk out of the basketball game of his life for her. Twenty years later, his wife has kicked him out and his kids hate him, causing him to live with his best friend. When he goes to pick up his kids at school, he tells a janitor that he’d like to relive his glory days and on his way home, Mike sees the janitor about to jump off a bridge. As he goes to save him, Mike falls over the edge and the next morning, he gets back home and finds that he’s been turned back into a 17-year-old.
Though borrowing an oft-used plot, 17 Again isn’t actually that bad of a film. The story revolves around Mike thinking that he’s been turned back into a teenager not only to relive what he saw as his glory days, but take the other choice he left behind as a kid and impress some college basketball scouts which would let him have the life he left behind. That’s not what happens though. Throughout the film, Mike is able to have several heart-to-hearts with his kids and his wife, allowing him to realize that he spends so much time reliving and wishing he was in the past that he’s not living in the present, hating life and is not invested with his wife or his kids. As the film rolls on, Mike is able to convince his son to join the basketball team, give some good advice to his daughter and tell his wife how he really feels about her by making her think the husband she’s divorcing is having a 17-year-old say it so she’ll actually listen. Notably, Mike’s speech is how his wife realizes that this teenager is actually her husband, which brings about the end of the film. Fascinatingly, Mike makes the exact same choice because he realizes that it was the correct choice to begin with and notably gives his son the basketball telling him that it’s his time.
The film is far from perfect though, with it trying its hardest to make the audience hate what could actually be described as a decent film with its subplot. Mike’s rich friend, Ned, is the stereotypically clichéd nerd. At the beginning of the film, he showed up to the team picture in a wizard robe and hat because he was playing Dungeons and Dragons. Later in the film, the man poses as Mike’s father, falls for the principal of the school and attempts to woo her, getting rebuffed because she doesn’t date parents of students. However, he continues and succeeds by finding out that she’s just as big of a nerd as he is when the two start a conversation in Elvish. However, the two break up midway through the film and Ned continues to try to use nerdy items to get her back, including respecting her wishes of not being seen dating a student’s parent because he’s wearing an invisibility cloak. The two do eventually remain together in the end, but this subplot is an affront to an otherwise solid film and just feels like it’s there due to padding. Ned is pretty rich and has a lot of interesting nerdy memorabilia, but the way he carries himself is so unrealistic, as if the film is saying that nerds are weird and take rejection to mean just act weirder. At the same time, it also seems to try and say that a person’s interest in nerdy things should be hidden because it’s so weird, seen in how Ned had to practically unlock the fact that the principal was a nerd. However, it brings about a couple of mixed messages, seeing as Ned not only winds up with the girl in the end, who’s quite attractive to begin with, but that his nerdy interests are what allowed him to have some neat toys, money and a gigantic house to begin with.
Where most films have plots that don’t know what they want to be, this film knows exactly what it’s attempting to be and does rather well with it. It’s the subplot doesn’t know if it’s trying to demean or praise nerds and winds up trying to do both rather poorly. A lot of popular films take the route of completely painting all nerds with a broad brush to make them all look like hopeless losers and it’s great to see someone who is that nerdy get and keep the girl, but the journey to that finished product is just an unwatchable mess. Quite jarring considering the main story is decent enough, especially with Efron showing that he really does possess some quality acting chops.