Businesswoman’s Special (When We Were Young, Episode 15)

“Hey, everyone — Sandy Frink just landed in a helicopter!”

Is that an earthquake? In honor of the 20th anniversary of their 10 year reunion, we join the Madonna twins and a big giant girl who smokes and says “shit” a lot to revisit 1987 and 1997 in Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion. Watch out, Tucson!

Chris and Seth have a special place in their hearts for this teen comedy made specifically for the C-Group (and anyone else who ever had their hamburger stolen by a deludanoid), and mutually agree that this is the cutest the When We Were Young podcast has ever looked. Meanwhile, Becky (the obvious Rhoda of this episode) comes to the scarf-folding fun with a fresher perspective to examine how this cherished cult hit holds up against today’s comedic standards. The WWWY gang is also joined by special guest Chelsea, inventor of Post-Its, to discuss her fancy-schmancy formula for glue.

So grab your flip phone and your huge notebook, because When We Were Young is doing Tucson (for a business thing), and we’re not stopping until our shoes are overflowing with blood. If you hate throwing up in public, you’ve come to the right podcast!

Listen here and subscribe here.

I like a lot of movies, but it’s hard to think of one that makes me quite as happy as Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion. As much as I enjoy The Brady Bunch Movie and A Very Brady Sequel (recently covered by this very same podcast), those films are ever-so-slightly marred by some goofier slapstick bits aimed at a younger audience. Romy And Michele, however, is Rated R and therefore lobs all of its jokes at an adult audience. (Granted, an adult audience that’s prone to laughing at Lisa Kudrow thrusting her tongue at the window to scare a little boy.)

I also find Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion the most insanely quotable movie of all time. I honestly don’t think there’s a single line you could say to me that I would not recognize, particularly when delivered in these characters’ distinct voices. (“I thought so!” isn’t a terribly memorable line… except the way Mira Sorvino delivers it.)

The first iteration of Romy and Michele was a 1988 play entitled Ladies Room, starring Lisa Kudrow and a bunch of other Groundlings, based on two women writer Robin Schiff really did encounter in a Los Angeles restroom. Sciff was also a Groundling, and that attention to character-based comedy is definitely what makes this film stand out. Ladies Room takes place at the Green Enchilada, a Mexican restaurant in LA, featuring a cast of 9 characters, and according to the original LA Times review, characters “range from the middle-brow women from the ad agency a few suicidal floors up to a pair of totally awesome Valley girls (Christie Mellor and Lisa Kudrow), vapidly looking for guys with good jobs (it makes them sexier).” Romy and Michele also appeared on a TV pilot written by Schiff called Just Temporary, where they were named Nicole and Torie.

Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion

Release Date: April 25, 1997
Domestic/Worldwide Total Gross: $29.2 million
Opening Weekend: $7.4 million
Metacritic: 59

In 1997, Friends was in Season 3 at the height of the Ross and Rachel romantic drama, so Kudrow was already a household name, though she had yet to carry a feature film. Mira Sorvino was an Academy Award winner, thanks to her role as a goofy prostitute in Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite, beating formidable talent like Joan Allen and Kate Winslet. She was a mid-90s “It Girl,” known for dating Quentin Tarantino, but was by no means a bankable box office draw, either. Janeane Garofalo was the biggest movie star in the cast, having already proven herself in The Truth About Cats And Dogs and The Cable Guy. (At the time, it felt a little strange that she was playing second-fiddle to Kudrow and Sorvino in a studio comedy.)

The film co-starred Alan Cumming, Julia Campbell, Elaine Hendrix, Camryn Manheim (of The Practice), Jacob Vargas, and a then-unknown Justin Theroux — a stellar cast all around. The film was directed by Simpsons writer/producer David Mirkin, who later directed Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt in another female buddy comedy, 2001’s Heartbreakers. (It’s no Romy And Michele, but I have a soft spot for it anyway.)

Here’s what the critics had to say in 1997:

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone:

“The affably airheaded Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion won’t silence her detractors, though Kudrow’s Michele is a deadpan delight as she joins fellow misfit Romy (a deliciously funny Mira Sorvino) at their 10-year high school reunion. The trailer alone is wittier than the entirety of McHale’s Navy and Jungle 2 Jungle, two ’97 comedies driven by TV stars. Kudrow and Sorvino have a ball in this babe version of Dumb and Dumber.

Todd McCarthy, Variety:

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion looks like a peroxided Clueless wannabe straggling along to the party two years after it’s over. Desperately uncertain in tone and able to generate only sporadic laughs, pic decks out its meager story of revenge and comeuppance with a vulgar, flashy shimmer that will no doubt attract teenage girls, or the core Clueless audience. Some good early returns are therefore likely, but the film’s own legs don’t reckon to be nearly as long as those of its statuesque heroines.”

There was no way Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion wasn’t going to hold up for me — I’ve watched it several times since my early fandom, though it had been a couple of years, at least, since I revisited it. This may have been the first viewing where I was looking for more than just a good time, though, and on that level, Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion is surprisingly potent.

Schiff’s script is truly smart in the way it addresses high school anxieties. It presents a tiered system of outcasts, which is definitely accurate — even most kids who consider themselves rejects are still cooler than someone — and it rightly separates the smart nerds (like Sandy and Tobey) from the dumb nerds (Romy and Michele) from the might-be-smart-if-she-gave-a-fuck nerd (Heather Mooney). It also grounds its characters in vulnerability — not just Romy and Michele, who make up a ridiculous lie about Post-Its to impress their former classmates, but Tobey, Sandy, and Heather, too. Tobey Walters could easily be a joke character the movie laughs off as easily as Heather does, but instead she gets a moment to explain how Heather’s harsh words hurt her, and we feel for her. Even Heather, as blunt and mean as she can be, is clearly acting this way defensively. Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion goes above and beyond most high school comedies in portraying the nuances of high school drama. Its much more complicated than the typical “jocks and homecoming queens versus the math club” that we usually see. Even the popular crowd is thought-through — yes, Christy Masters is pretty much the stereotypical bitch villain of every high school comedy ever made, but we definitely sense that her quest for external perfection has left her hollow inside. And there’s obviously something going on in the A-group between Christy and Lisa, which we get only a taste of in this movie. This is relatively rare in a studio comedy — the sense that every single one of these characters truly has a life outside the walls of this movie.On the podcast, we mention that Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion feels ahead of its time — perhaps not as a mainstream movie, but certainly in terms of its nuanced character work. This movie seems unlikely as a major release in 2017 — at least, not without some Bridesmaids-style raunch thrown in — but it’s easy to imagine these characters existing in a sophisticated cable or streaming comedy, the likes of which didn’t exist in 1997.

As much as I’ve always loved this film, it wasn’t until doing this podcast that I realized why I love it so much — not just because it’s hilarious (which it is), but because it has memorable, original characters and a smart, thoughtful message about several rites of passage in our lives. Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion understands that some, but not all, of who we are is evident in high school, and spreads that all-important message to the outcasts out there: “It gets better!” At the same time, it is realistic about the ways our high school insecurities linger far longer than it makes any sense for them to, evidenced most cleverly in Michele’s dream, in which just about every aspect of high school is still haunted by the domineering Christy Masters.

If we’ve left town and moved on from out high school lives, it certainly shouldn’t matter what a few people we happened to go to high school with think. But it does. In ways that are generally far less dramatic (or hilarious) as depicted here, high school reunions do give us a chance to get that closure — to face our old demons as the people we are now, and finally put them out of our minds. The lesson learned in Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion is one I learned at my own high school reunion, too — that everyone was and always will be dealing with their own shit, and most likely, no one ever was actively trying to make your life a living hell.

I’m not entirely sure I would have ever learned that lesson if Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion hadn’t primed me for it, almost 15 years ahead of time. So, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of this film, I have to say a truly heartfelt “thank you” to Robin Schiff, Lisa Kudrow, Mira Sorvino, David Mirkin, and the rest of the cast and crew of this movie. I probably wouldn’t have said this before sitting down and truly contemplating what this film means to me, but Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion is really, truly a great movie.

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