Romy and Michele

A review of the movie 'Romy and Michele's High School Reunion,' directed by David Mirkin and starring Mira Sorvino, Lisa Kudrow and Janeane Garofalo. Reviewed by Robin Dougherty. movies, film, reviews

Published May 25, 1997 7:00PM (EDT)

when they invent the 20-minute feature film, "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion" may be the perfect subject for it. Fluffy pink and vinyl-shiny as its protagonists' clothes, it's a one-joke story that's better crafted than it really deserves to be. To enter it is to experience an entire universe peopled by two creatures seemingly inspired by Kelly, the airhead daughter on the sitcom "Married ... with Children." How much giddy spaciness can one movie watcher endure?

That may depend on how much you identify with the protagonists. Starring Mira Sorvino ("Mighty Aphrodite") and Lisa Kudrow ("Friends"), "Romy and Michele" is not so much a fable as a white flag for the slacker generation as it hits the big 10-year mark since high school graduation. "Ten years! Where have I been?" asks Sorvino's Romy in tones that make it clear she hasn't really been able to keep track of herself, even if her green and blue nail polish does perfectly match her outfit.

One thing Romy does know, however, is that unlike her Sagebrush High classmate Heather (Janeane Garofalo), she hasn't done anything as interesting as inventing quick-burning cigarette paper. No, since graduation, Romy has moved from Tucson to Los Angeles, along with her best friend Michele (Kudrow). The two unfocused young women now live in a fourth-floor walk-up in Venice, where they wile away the time going to clubs and watching "Pretty Woman" on video. "I can't believe that even after watching it 36 times," says Michele, "I never get tired of making fun of it."

After a chance encounter with Heather, Romy talks Michele into planning a trip to the high school reunion -- providing that the two find boyfriends and better jobs in the ensuing two weeks. This plan doesn't pan out, so the duo decide to tell people they're businesswomen, at one point asking a truck-stop waitress if the place has a "businesswoman's lunch special." Their scheme nearly dissolves when the waitress asks what business they're in. Quick on the trigger, at least for airheads, Romy and Michele decide they will tell people they invented Post-its. That turning point ignites the story's screwball dynamic, which snowballs when an argument develops over Michele's claim that "I am the Mary and you are the Rhoda."

Sitcom models aside, we learn from flashbacks that neither Romy nor Michele were the popular girls in school. Nor were they science nerds, yearbook journalists or drama club joiners. They were loners who hung out with each other. Michele spent high school in a body brace for scoliosis, while Romy battled her image as the fat girl (even though the Romy we see in flashback is plump only by Hollywood's anorexic standards). The duo also did time as the victims of a catty girl clique. So why go back at all?

With its depiction of high school as a huge pecking order organized by each person's power to reject others, "Romy and Michele" resembles a lot of other movies. And that's one reason it's emotional stakes aren't very high -- at least on the surface. What makes it interesting, despite its uneven comedy, is that it lets the audience both identify with and be appalled by its main characters. For those in their 20s who see themselves as left holding the bag while the Baby Boomers got all the postwar goodies, in real life, Kudrow and Sorvino prove that the bag's not entirely empty yet.

The actresses are playing dimwits so generic that when one says to the other, "You look really great with blonde hair and black roots" it hardly matters that, five seconds later, you can't remember which one spoke. Kudrow is doing her usual seamless shtick, fine-tuned by countless "Friends" episodes. Sorvino spends the movie trying to find her mark -- is she playing a dumb blonde or parodying one? -- but not exactly hitting it. Nonetheless, audiences know that these two successful actresses, both Ivy League grads and celeb photo-essay subjects, are in real life anything but underemployed slackers.

Likewise, Garofalo, who's carved out a career as the teen loser who grew up to be hipper than the rest of us can even hope to be. A flip through Romy and Michele's high school yearbook reveals her black-garbed character posing with her back to the camera. Garofalo's performance here is strangely lackluster, but her presence is not without measure. With such cutting-edge show-biz credits as "The Ben Stiller Show," "The Larry Sanders Show" and "Saturday Night Live" to her credit, Garofalo may damn well play the eye-rolling outsider of her generation, but in real life, she's probably the person voted most welcome at her high school reunion.

To describe any more of "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion" would be to gnaw away at its fragile comic underpinnings. (The best of the humor comes from the actresses' line readings anyway.) As lightweight as it is, it's easy to feel real affection for the movie. Think of it as a sincere plea to take the Romy and Micheles of the world as successful on their own terms, embracing, as much as humanly possible, their penchant for polyester and vinyl.

By Robin Dougherty

Robin Dougherty is a frequent contributor to Salon. She is a freelance writer who lives in Miami Beach.

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