We gave it a C+
Ten years out of high school in Arizona, and Romy (Mira Sorvino) and Michele (Lisa Kudrow), the best-friend heroines of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, are living in Southern California. They’ve got a cute apartment on the beach, baubley clothes, and a great capacity for unironic enjoyment: Watching Pretty Woman on video for the millionth time, they can still be moved by the sadness of the scene early on where Julia Roberts is dissed in a fancy clothing boutique. They’ve got marginal jobs (well, Michele is unemployed) and no boyfriends, but that doesn’t keep them from hitting dance clubs together. The two have got irrational optimism and a blissful trust in one another’s friendship.
Then they hear about their 10th high school reunion — and proceed to get all bent out of shape trying to make themselves appear more successful than they are. How they go about it — how they get psyched, humiliate themselves, fight, reconcile, prevail, wow the boys, and triumph while never once making any sense on planet Earth — is the rest of this comedy fairy tale, directed with an indulgent hand by TV producer-writer-director David Mirkin (Newhart, The Simpsons, The Edge, a lot of good stuff).
Had Romy and Michele been written by Wendy Wasserstein — at this point, our bard of the contemporary American female condition — it would have been called Uncommon High School Women and Others, and it would have been a much better and tighter story. As it is, this sloppy, pleasant comedy by playwright and TV producer Robin Schiff (Almost Perfect) is an amiable mess, a padded-out expansion of a play called Ladies’ Room that Schiff first mounted nearly a decade ago, starring a then-unknown Lisa Kudrow in a showcase role that eventually brought her to Mad About You and on to Friends doing much the same ditz-as-Zen-mistress character.
And the creaky expansion joints are audible; scenes that would have worked well as blackout comedy sketches lose their punch when rolled out one after the other. Kudrow’s wonderful comic timing, while still tonic, is just that much less effective. Sorvino’s oxygenated gameness (a variation on her Oscar-winning call-girl personality in Mighty Aphrodite) is just a little undercooked. Janeane Garofalo — the stealth comedy weapon in any movie — is characteristically blackly funny in the role of a foulmouthed high school loner who is no less bitter a decade later for being a successful businesswoman (she invented a cigarette that burns really fast, for women on the go). But even Garofalo is forced to vamp.
There are so many good ideas packed into Romy and Michele — about friendship, about revenge, about the kind of high school tortures that never see the light of day in Grosse Pointe Blank — that it may be uncharitable to yammer. There’s a killer interpretive dance the two friends do at the end with Alan Cumming (Emma) as the geek who comes back rich. The music is dishy (Cyndi Lauper, Culture Club, all the 10th-reunion greats). So, like, I guess, who cares if there’s a long, draggy fantasy portion in the middle? Who’s carping that these girls couldn’t possibly be so dumb and so savvy at the same time? They’re, like, sort of like real girls from high school. And they just want to have fun. C+