Romy & Michele's
High School Reunion

directed by David Mirkin
(Buena Vista, 1997)

If it's possible to make a multi-faceted fantasy about one-dimensional characters, director David Mirkin has succeeded.

A revenge comedy of modest proportions but gum-cracking good humor, Romy & Michele's High School Reunion concerns high school buds Romy White (Mira Sorvino) and Michele Weinberger (Lisa Kudrow), who have forsaken their native land, Tucson, Ariz., for Los Angeles.

All goes swimmingly for them in their beach-front apartment until the eve of their 10-year class reunion, when Romy decides they have to play Pygmalion with themselves in order to impress their former classmates.

That's no simple feat for two women whose intellectual parameters are delineated by Pretty Woman and Vogue. Even so, with the aid of their favorite magazine and the service manager at the luxury car lot where Romy works as a cashier, they put together the auto and the outfits they need to buttress the story they expect will make them the surprise hit of their high school reunion: They invented Post Its.

Now all of this could wear thin pretty quickly if Mirkin and screenwriter Robin Schiff hadn't gone to great lengths to give Romy & Michele as much breadth as it lacks depth.

For one thing, they expand the character base beyond Romy and Michele to other losers from their high school, most notably science fair geek Heather Mooney (Janeane Garofalo), who had a crush on the very boy (Alan Cumming) Michele couldn't get way from fast enough.

Garofalo gives Heather her manic, cynical best as the permanent loner who feels left out because she didn't make anyone's life miserable when she was in high school. And -- thank you, Mirkin and Schiff -- she's used sparingly to avoid overdose.

For another thing, they allow Romy and Michele to be accidentally astute observers of the American scene, a sort of Beavis and Butthead in drag.

Finally, Mirkin provides some moments of flat-out glee: teetotaler Romy going to an A.A. meeting in hopes of finding a boyfriend, or Romy and Michele having a major falling over which of them is the "Mary" and which is the "Rhoda" in their relationship.

Romy & Michele's High School Reunion isn't without its problems. For one thing, try to imagine Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow as two young women who can't get a date between them.

More importantly, premise films like Romy & Michele often have nowhere to go because there is nowhere characters like Romy and Michele can take us.

There's little they can say about our lives that we don't already know, yet this is exactly what we ask of them when we send them off to their 10-year class reunion with all our anxieties in tow. Consequently, for Romy and Michele, the long-awaited trip to fame and fortune ends in a Never Never Land of warmed-over truisms about high school. Nice, yes. Original, no.

In truth, for Romy and Michele, getting there was all the fun. Fortunately for Mirkin, Sorvino and Kudrow, there was more than enough of it to go around.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]

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