Gal Pals

'Romy and Michele's High School Reunion' Is SoCal Slacker Cinema At, Like, Its Cutest.
By Stacey Richter 

ROMY AND MICHELE'S High School Reunion is basically Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, but with girls.

Cinema Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino play Michele and Romy, a pair of friends in their late 20s who've formed one of those intense pair-bonds you usually only see between teenagers. They live together, they dress alike, they say "we." Like Bill and Ted, a duo of time-traveling stoners from a 1989 movie, they're dumb, yet possess a California, laid-back joie de vivre almost Zen-like in its emptiness. The only thing they take seriously is fashion, and even then, they're only interested in looking "cute."

The subject of slacker girls with SoCal accents and shopping fetishes has been ripe for satire for so long I almost can't believe this film wasn't made earlier. Kudrow and Sorvino play their parts with relish, picking up on every little nuance of the mall-going, gum chewing life, every little intonation of "yeah," and exaggerating it just enough to hit the mark. Kudrow reprises her empty-headed role from TV, but adds a teeny-bopper twist. Each time she discovers that she and longtime companion Michele have something in common (like, they both enjoy folding scarves), she takes it as an opportunity for intense bonding ("I do too!!!"). Sorvino, as Romy, has the deep-voiced, tomboy-ish edge of a surfer girl, and all her ideas seem like playful plots. Yes, they really are cute.

But cute can be annoying, too. You need to have some sort of affection for this type of female to enjoy Romy and Michele, especially since the movie as a whole is uneven. The plot veers between the ridiculous and the totally stupid. It has the character of a daydream unraveling in the head of a twentysomething girl, and at times it seems like something the actors are making up as they go along. This is director David Mirkin's first effort, and it shows. The pacing at the beginning of the movie is strange, with scenes strung together like a series of skits, yet Mirkin still tries to cram in as much unnecessary expository dialogue as there is in an average episode of Touched by an Angel. In case anyone misses the point, we're told several times that the girl's big 10-year high school reunion is coming up. ("Gee, Michele, it's only two weeks to the reunion and we still haven't found good jobs or boyfriends!")

The girls are happy as low-wage fashion slaves, but, alas, they're also concerned with appearances, and the prospect of seeing all their old friends from Sagebrush High in Tucson fills them with self-loathing. They decide to pretend to be high-paid lady executives, but they're just not slick enough to pull it off. Eventually, the plot disintegrates into a series of dream-like sequences of revenge and triumph. The girls tell off the popular bitches. Then they do a ballet.

By this time the movie becomes so weird that there's nothing to do but relax and go with it. After seeing so many processed, formulaic Hollywood films, it's a relief to see a strange, free-form fantasy unraveling on the screen. It's also really strange. As the story progresses, the child-like quality of the girls becomes more pronounced. A nerdy guy who has become the most successful guy in the class arrives in his helicopter and professes his love for Michele. Then he, Michele, and Romy do an interpretive victory dance for their former classmates. Like third-grade best friends, these girls are not going to be separated.

There's something romantic in Michele and Romy's love for each other, though early on it's established that they're not lovers. (When Romy wonders aloud if she might be a lesbian, Michele offers "to have sex with her sometime and find out.") But it's still refreshing to see a movie about women who don't need to be rescued, and aren't pining for a man. All Michele and Romy really want is to be together. The big conflict in the movie comes when they have a fight, but once they get back together it's clear nothing is going to separate them, least of all some guy. It is, well, cute. TW

Romy and Michele's High School Reunion is playing at Century Gateway (792-9000), Catalina (881-0616), Foothills (742-6174) and DeAnza Drive-In (745-2240) cinemas.

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