Back in 2009, the world had not relatively seen Zac Efron in a project since High School Musical 3, but he was still a heartthrob celebrity with all the potential in the world. In that same year, Efron walked away from the remake of Footloose during pre-production after being attached to the project for over a year, citing “All the things I loved about Footloose I couldn’t find in the project, they just weren’t there – I couldn’t see myself doing it.“
For anyone that may have been concerned about his career after this, their feeling would be alleviated with the release of New Line Cinema’s 17 Again.
17 Again is directed by Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down), written by Jason Filardi (Bringing Down the House), and stars Zac Efron (Neighbors), Matthew Perry (Friends), Thomas Lennon (Reno 911!), Leslie Mann (Knocked Up), Sterling Knight (Starstruck), and Michelle Trachtenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). The musical score is composed by Rolfe Kent (Downsizing) and the cinematographer is Tim Suhrstedt (The Wedding Singer).
The film tells the tale of an underachieving man, Mike O’Donnell (Perry), in the midst of a divorce. His kids also want nothing to do with him and he is living with his best friend from high school, Ned Gold (Lennon). O’Donnell’s life is becoming a trainwreck. He sees a picture of his high school basketball team and reminisces about his glory days as a basketball phenom when he runs into a mysterious janitor. One Twilight Zone moment later and, next thing you know, he wakes up as his 17-year old self (Efron) – except that he is still in the present. He gets a second chance at life and intends to get things right this time by getting his family back together.
This is the first true lead role for Efron outside of the High School Musical films and the heart and soul of the movie rests on his muscular shoulders. He proves to everyone that he is fully capable of carrying a film. He provides excellent comedic timing and reaction while still showing off his dramatic, vulnerable side in a few key scenes that deliver a huge impact on the film. 17 Again suits Efron’s talents to a tee as he shines here.
The rest of the cast shine, Mann does well with the material she has, as do Knight and Trachtenberg. Let’s be real, though: Lennon should be the real MVP. His witty dialogue, combined with his goofy, insane persona and the long takes of such bizarre behaviour, make for non-stop entertainment value. He has some amazing standout moments – a number of them including former The Office guest star, Melora Hardin, portraying Principal Masterson. It is a huge compliment for Lennon to be in consideration to be the most memorable character in a film that stars a massively popular and talented Efron.
As much as I like Perry as an older version of Efron and, of course, as a former alum of Friends, I was a little disappointed in his performance. It is not because he does a poor job. He just does not sell me in his role as much as I would have hoped for.
The music within the film is also hit-or-miss. I find the song selection to be quite refreshing and almost always delivering the right kind of energy to a particular scene or sequence. The musical score, however, does not hold up well. It does not feel memorable in any way, shape, or form. It feels as though it were thrown together last minute with very limited resources to work with. In fact, the soundtrack almost does a better job of being a musical score than the actual score itself. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few moments where Rolfe Kent’s score does work (mostly emotional scenes), but only appear few and far between when it does not feel overly thin and generic.
For a film that came out ten years ago, the plot and execution of the film still holds up very well for the most part. The humour is still top-notch and the heart and serious moments still bring a gut-punch when required. Some standout scenes include Lennon’s meetings with and speaking in a language from Lord of the Rings to Hardin, a lightsaber duel, Efron interrogating school bully, Stan (Hunter Parrish), in the cafeteria with a basketball, and, my personal favourite, Efron’s monologue in a courtroom.
17 Again is not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but I do believe it to be quite an underrated film that has stuck with me ever since first watching it in theatres with my sister many moons ago. The good easily outweighs the bad and the entire film is a rollercoaster ride with a plethora of entertaining moments along the way. Plus, it helped launch Efron’s career outside of the High School Musical franchise. The flick even features notable producers such as Adam Shankman (Hairspray) and Warner Bros. Film Chief, Toby Emmerich. For me, it’s a perfect culmination of scenarios all coming together to create something magical that will live on in the pantheon of comedy films.
If you have not seen it, I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone. There is something in here for everyone, including you.