17 Again (2009)

17-again-poster17 Again (PG)

Starring Zac Efron and Matthew Perry

This movie should be bad. It has an overused plot (character magically changes ages because life would be better if they were young/old), the latest teen heart throb (High School Musical’s Zac Efron), and a need to seriously suspend all kinds of logic to make the plot work. And in the opening scene, it looks like all our fears are going to be realised. Efron is playing basketball with his shirt off, then joins the cheerleaders in a bit of gratuitous dancing. Yay for fan service. But I’m not a pre teen girl, so my eyes are rolling.

Yet somehow, the makers of 17 Again take all of these limitations and take what by all rights should be an awful movie and make it fun and enjoyable. Yeah, I didn’t see that one coming either.

Mike O’Donnell (Perry) is a middle aged man who’s life is falling apart. His wife is divorcing him, his kids don’t want to know him, and he just quit his job after not receiving a desired promotion. The only thing he has left is the life long friendship with his uber-nerd pal Ned. Life was so much simpler when he was 17, a basketball hot shot on his way to a college scholarship and his girlfriend wasn’t pregnant. If only he could go back to those days. And of course, through the magic of random, inexplicable stuff happening in movies, he finds himself de-aged to 17. Even for better for Matthew Perry, his 17 year old self apparently looks like Zac Efron.

Mike goes to high school, joins the basketball team, befriends and helps out his struggling teenage children, and makes a pass at his soon to be ex wife. The absurdity of these situations, like a man being in a sex-ed class with his teenage daughter, or a high school boy cracking on to the mother of one of his friends, is played up to full effect. The makers of the film are not afraid to “go there” whilst still keeping it in the realms of a PG movie. One particularly awkward scene, where the teenage daughter is unknowingly coming onto her dad reminded me of the incestuous sexual tension of Back To The Future. A movie favourably making me think of Back To The Future is never a bad thing.

Mike’s friend Ned is a highlight for me. He takes the nerdy stereotype and takes it to the next level. Every thing is over the top – the star wars land speeder for his bed, the outrages gifts he gives to the women he’s chasing, his research for Mike’s de-aging. And that’s a great thing. There should be more light saber battles in movies. Especially chick flicks. I would go with my wife to see more girly movies if they only added more explosions and light saber battles…

Efron’s acting should also be singled out. I don’t want to like Efron. High School Musical is not a movie I enjoy. Yet you can’t say that Efron hasn’t got something going on. At times I forgot that Efron and Perry weren’t the same person. It’s like Efron sat down and watched 10 years of Friends to prepare for this movie. If he can keep getting the right roles, Zac Efron will be a force to be reckoned with in the movie world.

One thing that struck me about this movie is that Mike’s character doesn’t use this opportunity to leave his family behind. He has ample opportunities to sleep around with beautiful high school cheerleaders who don’t even require him to remember their names. Yet the whole time he is devoted to his wife. The whole time he just needed to remember how much he loved her and how his life, despite what he previously thought, would never be any where near as good without her. In this age of divorce and infidelity, it was great to see that in 17 Again that reconciliation was promoted ahead of divorce.

Mike wanted to live in the past. “Well, of course i wanna live in the past. It was better there…” Things are tough in his life and he wants to go back. It reminded me of the Israelites. God had rescued them from slavery. He had provided for them. He was there for them every step of the way. Yet, when things got tough, what did they do? They complained that they had it better in Egypt. They would rather be in slavery than living as God’s chosen people. That’s a seriously distorted point of view. It’s like a Christian saying that they would rather be back before they knew God because life was more fun back then. Just as Mike realises that his life is better with the love of his wife, so the Christian must always remember that life under God is so much better.

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