American Reunion, a terrible, lifeless comedy that couldn't make us care about the adult lives of a group of characters even though we had already spent three movies with them. This year's much better reunion movie is the barely-released comedy drama 10 Years, written and directed by Jamie Linden. It's a high school reunion movie less concerned with looking back than with examining the present. It presents no real villains, nor characters with longtime scores to settle. It's not as good as Ted Demme's great Beautiful Girls, but it belongs much more in that conversation than it does with junk like American Reunion.
The "main" character of the movie, such as there is one, is Channing Tatum's Jake, who is attending his 10 year reunion with his girlfriend, Jenna (Tatum's real-life wife Jenna Dewan-Tatum), despite the fact that he's still not sure that he's over his high school sweetheart, Mary (Rosario Dawson). Also in his group of friends attending the reunion are Marty (Justin Long), a hotshot bachelor who moved to New York; AJ (Max Minghella), married and successful and determined to act as Marty's wingman for the night; Cully (Chris Pratt), a former hard-partying douchebag who may not have changed his ways; his wife, Sam (Ari Graynor), who has two kids and a husband she has to mother; Scott (Scott Porter), who has moved to Japan and has no interest in looking back and Reeves (Oscar Isaac), who has gone on to find major fame as a singer/songwriter. Rounding out the cast are Kate Mara, Aubrey Plaza, Anthony Mackie, Ron Livingston and Lynn Collins.
Just read through that cast list again. If you're a fan of actors at all, 10 Years is worth seeing just for the impressive group that's been assembled. Even when I wasn't drawn into the movie -- and that was the case for the first 30 minutes (more on that in a second) -- I was willing to stay with it just because I wanted to follow these actors. Yes, there are probably too many people in the cast, and a few of them lean towards the generic, but for the most part it's a great group of warm, winning actors giving warm, winning performances. Nearly every member of the ensemble gets his or her moment, and each actor is able to make the most of it.
Yes, the movie is often overly simplistic -- on paper, anyway. The majority of the characters can be reduced to one or two qualities: this one is unhappy in his marriage, this one is looking to score, this one peaked in high school, this one is looking for the One That Got Away. Nothing in the movie is all that original, and yet it still manages to sidestep most of the cliches of similar movies by keeping things small and grounded and real. Moments that would be big and obnoxiously on-the-nose in another movie are addressed with a single line of dialogue, or, in some cases, a silent exchange. Writer/director Linden always looks for the humanity throughout, whether it's in a genuinely moving exchange between Justin Long and Lynn Collins or in the sweet romance between Oscar Isaac and Kate Mara, whose storyline is one of the best things about the movie. Credit also to the film for having Isaac's character finally play his hit song (which has been built up throughout the movie) and having it actually be REALLY GOOD as well as advancing the plot. Those of use who sat through the end credits of Sucker Punch already knew that Isaac is a talented singer, but he's still a pleasant surprise here.
10 Years is essentially Can't Hardly Wait for an older set (which might sound like a criticism, but I'll willingly confess to having seen Can't Hardly Wait many, many times), gathering a bunch of familiar actors and character "types" for a 10-year high school reunion instead of a party on the last day of high school. Because the characters are older, the movie is much more grown up; it avoids Can't Hardly Wait's annoying tendency for broad comedy and instead opts for introspection without ever becoming too naval-gazing or mopey. Though it traffics in the familiar, 10 Years is not a movie of gigantic revelations. It is a movie of small truths, usually well observed.
Magic Mike. Here, he feels puffy and sleepy, not finding a character so much as a situation -- it's not bad work, but it's nothing special. There are two good things he brings to the movie, though: 1) he acts opposite his real-life wife, Jenna Dewan-Tatum (making this the Two of a Kind to Step Up's Grease), and they are sweet and genuine together, and 2) he was a producer on the movie, suggesting that his participation went a long way towards getting it made. If it means a choice between having 10 Years exist or not having it exist, I'm glad it exists.
10 Years is available on DVD and Blu-ray starting today.