Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion

In some cultures, maybe cuter.
★★★★
☆
Released: 
1997
Director: 
David Mirkin
Starring: 
Lisa Kudrow, Mira Sorvino, Janeane Garofalo, Alan Cumming
The Setup: 
Two friends decide to pretend to be successful at their ten-year reunion.
Discussion: 

I became a lifelong devotee of Lisa Kudrow after her amazing performance in The Opposite of Sex, and had this one on the list for years before I finally decided that the time had come. It’s always good to have a movie you KNOW you’re going to like on tap for those evenings when you need to be guaranteed decent entertainment. Ahh.

We open with the scene from Pretty Woman where Julia is attempting to shop and gets kicked out of the Rodeo Drive store. Romy, that’s Mira Sorvino, says that they’ve watched the movie like 39 times and they still enjoy making fun of it. Michele, Lisa Kudrow, says yeah, but it’s still kind of sad. “I always feel happy when they finally let her shop.” Then they get ready to go out, deciding that they look their absolute cutest. “Isn’t it great that we can say this to each other and know we’re not being conceited or anything?” “Oh I know, Michele responds, “We’re just being honest.”

So it turns out that Romy works as the cashier at a Jaguar dealership. One day Janene Garafalo comes in and Romy recognizes her. She tells her about the reunion, but says she’s not going. There’s a whole strain of comedy in the long conversation they’re having while a bunch of people are in line behind them. When they’re done, Romy gets on the phone to gab to Michele, leaving all those people standing in line.

So they embark on an excellent expository device, which is to look through the high school yearbook and reminisce. They were best friends and were loners—we see a group picture where they are in back, alone with each other, and they even had their proper yearbook photo taken together, which apparently elicited controversy. Romy was in love with this guy Billy, the popular jock, who had a perfect little girlfriend in Kristy Masters. At the time Michele suffered from scoliosis, and had to wear a big back brace that the film has squeak loudly whenever she moves. Knowing that Romy likes her boyfriend, Kristy comes over and takes Romy’s lunch while sticking refrigerator magnets on Michele’s brace. A while later, at the prom, Romy decides that she’ll ask Billy for one dance, since it’s the end of the year. He tells her sure, and to wait right there for him, then he and Kristy take off. Romy waits and waits, and Sorvino manages a throaty, stuffed-up from crying voice when Michele tries to cheer her up. The two friends dance together to “Time After Time.”

Okay, let’s pause to discuss two things. The first is the subtle intimations of lesbianism amongst the two friends. There is something about the way they are always together, shown as off in their own little couple in high school, even [controversially] photographed together in the yearbook, that they’ve lived together in the ten years since high school, and that they’re always telling each other how attractive they look. It all comes into the open when Michele mentions that people probably think they’re lesbians, and asks Romy if they should sleep together to find out. The movie flirts with it, but it doesn’t ever really flower into anything. The second thing is that this is one of those comedies that has a thick streak of tragedy running through it, and a lot of what’s here can be viewed as not funny at all, but almost unbearably painful. There’s an air that the reason these two women are together is that no one else likes them, and their whole attitude of how cute they are is just a front to mask their desperation for others to like them. Scenes like with the refrigerator magnets and the very fact of the back brace are incredibly sad, and for the first half hour I was wondering if the entire movie would ultimately come off as more harrowing than anything.

So they decide that they’re going to the reunion, but “What’s the point in going if we’re not going to impress people?” So they go to the gym [their impractical but high-fashion workout ensembles [above] are hilarious], and decide that Michele will get them jobs while Romy will get them boyfriends. This leads to a hilarious scene in which Michele goes into a Versace store and tells the manager that “Fashion is everything,” to her, compliments a nearby woman, then tells the manager, so that the woman can hear, that she’s really good at lying to people and saying they look great when they—and here she makes a jerk-off motion. Unable not to comment on anything, Michele looks at the manager and says “I think she heard me.” Meanwhile Romy is out at the bars trying to score a boyfriend. She meets one nice guy, but upon finding out that he sells suits for a living, she says “Excuse me, but I cut my foot earlier and my shoe is filling up with blood,” then walks off. I have to say, despite my comment on the underlying sadness of the whole thing, that I was laughing out loud more than I can remember doing at a movie in years.

Job and boyfriend-finding missions failed, they hit the candy and soon decide to just lie and say that they’re super-successful. Romy hits upon the idea that they’ll say they invented Post-It notes. They buy business suits and—off they go!

SPOILERS > > >
On the way, Romy says they should say that she invented the Post-Its, because she’s more the inventor type, and Michele's contribution was to say they should be yellow. This leads to a big roadside fight, wherein Michele says it’s “like common knowledge” that she’s cuter, and they decide to go their separate ways upon reaching Tucson.

There is a huge tonal change once they get to the reunion, which I thought reflected the change in their friendship, but we’ll eventually find out its something else. Michele goes up to Kristy and her same group of friends, now all married and pregnant and clearly representing the style queens of Tucson—this was a surprise, as I had somehow expected they’d go back to find out everyone they thought was cool turned out to be a fat loser. Michele talks her way through a scientific explanation of how she invented the glue for the back of the Post-Its, and then—well, there’s something so funny I wouldn’t dare spoil it for you. She walks outside and is hit by a limo, rolling over and over its top until she’s dumped off the back. This is the chariot of Sandy, former geek played by Alan Cumming who bought a new face and is now all handsome. They make out for a while and then Sandy FLIES out of the car, causing me to go “Wait a minute, is this all just a dream?” It goes on, until suddenly we flash-forward to 70 years later, when both friends are on their deathbeds, still refusing to speak. Then—Michele wakes up! It WAS all a dream—a LONG dream.

Things inside are much like high school. Kristy and friends laugh at Romy when it’s revealed that she was just lying about the Post-Its, and Michele comes to her rescue. She tells her “You’re as cute as me. In some cultures, maybe cuter.” After a big public humiliation, Michele gives a big speech about how she didn’t know they had a rotten time in high school until Romy told her—she thought they were having great fun. Similarly, she didn’t know they were losers until Romy told her. Again, this all lends to the underlying air of sadness, that Romy is so wrapped up in what everyone thinks of her that she lives in a state of perpetual inadequacy and constantly frets over what other’s think. So obviously this is like “the big speech” scene, and although there are a million different things one could say about the experience of high school—this one isn’t that bad. Another point the movie makes is that everyone in high school made someone else miserable, in kind of a chain sort of thing. That point is not quite so solid.

Anyway, the lesbianism rears its head again when Romy responds to this by saying “Gosh, Michele, you’re so bossy and domineering—I like it!” Then it ends in a good-natured and fun way that I won’t spoil for you.
< < < SPOILERS END

It was good, but you knew that. Because I’m the last person on the planet who hasn’t seen this movie. But like I said, I laughed harder at this movie than I can remember laughing at any movie in recent memory [I’m more of a quiet chuckler], and I liked the whole milieu and how it affectionately ribs the characters but still maintains respect for them. Romy and Michele are ludicrous, but the movie never mocks them or is unsympathetic, and like I said, some of the early scenes are so painfully cruel—funny, but cruel—that one could watch the first half as entirely serious, not a comedy at all.

It was good. I don’t have much more to say about it.

Should you watch it: 

Yes, it’s very funny, and I wish there were about 10 more ‘Romy and Michele’ movies.