On the set of The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud…
Because sometimes you just need some eye candy…
High School Musical is about a young man struggling to choose between high school sports and the temptation of musical theater, and finding the courage to do something his buddies think is totally gay, except it’s a Disney movie and therefore it takes place in a universe where being gay does not exist, so Troy’s buddies just say things like “You ever think LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal auditioned for their school musical?”
“It was the worst possible thing you could do in high school,” Efron agrees. “Kids who are in musical theater tend to be self-confident in a quirky kind of way, and when kids who are really self-conscious see somebody doing that kind of thing, they try to bring them down. I used to do random things, man. When I was a kid? I dyed my hair silver, to look like SisQó in the “Thong Song” video. I just didn’t give a fuck. I didn’t care.”
You’ve seen this all before – really. ’17 Again’ really doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, and Zac Efron certainly doesn’t take any chances by playing anything other than according to type. So even though this film is strictly by-the-numbers why is it so fun? The answer (unsurprisingly) is Zac Efron.
That’s not to say that the others don’t hold their own – quite the contrary. Zac Efron can’t act – and to his credit he realises he doesn’t have to. He just has to look extremely pretty and be a male Anne Hathaway (pre-‘Devil Wears Prada’), chewing up every scene with his perfect hair, ridiculously good body and sparkly eyes. He does it well, both in the prologue scenes where he starts out as 17, and in the main body of the film where his 37 year old, Matthew Perry self, disillusioned with life, has opted to be 17 Again to fulfil some sort of quest. Yes we’ve seen the reverse in ‘Big’, and that’s by far the better film – more nuanced, better acted and quite charming. Yet this film has its own charm too. Yes it’s horribly let down by some blatant product placements, a script which feels thrown together by committee and absolutely no originality whatsoever. It’s even quite badly let down by Matthew Perry who himself seems to have fallen on hard times post-‘Friends’. But Efron has a magnetism which is contagious, however contrived. He rescues his kids (Michelle Trachtenberg and Sterling Knight) from the school bully, even has the requisite scene where Trachtenberg makes her play for him, he even has chemistry with his still-adult wife Leslie Mann (occasionally to great comic effect). But why he was allowed a second chance eludes him until the end of the film. The final scenes are pretty much what you might expect, and Matthew Perry must have cringed when shooting them, but it keeps the heart of the film sound. It’s a shame that Efron hasn’t graduated to taking any meaningful career challenges yet – it’ll be interesting to see what happens should he go down that path. In the meantime he’s a fun if flimsy watch.
It’s a shame that the writing really is by committee. We get the hilarious match between Perry’s adult friend Ned (Thomas Lennon) and school principal (Melora Hardin), with some really funny moments, but it’s at the expense of a satisfying resolution to Efron/Perry’s son’s (Knight) own coming-of-age story. A line is mostly drawn under Trachtenberg’s troubles, yet not (ahem cute) Knight’s, and it’s annoying. Director Burr Steers was clearly paid just to turn up and turn the camera over, and it’s surprising with his track record (‘Igby Goes Down’). Then again this never really diverges from being an Efron vehicle. The 21 year old himself can get away with it this time, but he won’t forever. 5/10