Romy (Mira Sorvino) and Michele (Lisa Kudrow) live in a land that fashion forgot - a taste-free zone where platform shoes, dresses with fuzzy trim and T-shirts with big playing-card designs on them are always the rage.
“To me,” Michele cluelessly confides, “fashion is just, like, everything.” Everything unattainable, she must mean.
Back when they were the geekiest girls in their Sagebrush High class in Tuscon, Ariz., the heroines of this story would have made Carrie look as popular as the head cheerleader. And if Romy and Michele haven’t changed much in the decade since graduation, they have always had one thing going for them: Like Beavis and Butt-head, these space cadets are so utterly enchanted by their own spectacularly out-of-it-ness that they don’t even realize what weirdos they are.
Early in the new film, Romy and Michele find themselves making plans to attend their high-school reunion. Only then does it occur to them that their supposedly glamorous Venice Beach, Calif. existence - a lifestyle they love - is unlikely to impress their former classmates.
Romy, after all, is a cashier and Michele is unemployed. Neither has a boyfriend nor, apparently, anyone in her life but the other.
After attempting, futilely, to procure cool jobs and hot guys in the two weeks before the reunion, Romy and Michele finally hit upon the obvious-to-anyone-but-them scheme of pretending to be successful. So they show up at the big event claiming to have gotten rich by inventing Post-It notes.
It’s a desperate plan, but then these are desperate women.
“Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” is an unpretentious, sometimes-funny film. And despite how it probably sounds, the movie isn’t all that mean to its wild-and-crazy gals, whom it asks us to find charmingly, albeit pathetically, eccentric.
If, finally, the film falls somewhat flat, that’s probably because it’s a textbook case of a little idea that got too big. According to the press notes, the characters first popped up nearly a decade ago in a Los Angeles play called “Ladies Room,” set entirely in a women’s restroom.
Screenwriter Robin Schiff has expanded the idea to major-motion-picture dimensions and attracted a cast led by an Oscar-winning actress (the pie-faced Sorvino, who won for “Mighty Aphrodite”) and one of the leads in a top sitcom (the goosey Kudrow, who plays Phoebe on “Friends”). The cast also includes Janeane Garofalo (“The Truth About Cats and Dogs”) in what is probably the archetypical Janeane Garofalo role of a sour-spirited, foul-mouthed, chain-smoking classmate of Romy and Michele.
David Mirkin, who directed the film, has impressive TV credentials, having been associated with such top-notch small-screen programs as “The Simpsons,” “The Tracey Ullman Show” and “The Larry Sanders Show,” as well as the uneven-but-occasionally-inspired “Get a Life” with Chris Elliott.
Spinning a minor variation on her flaky “Friends” character, Kudrow makes the style-impaired Michele seem like a person in her own right. Eternal optimism and sweetnatured narcissism are hallmarks of both Kudrow characters although Michele could never be popular enough to attract five friends simultaneously.
As Romy, Sorvino speaks in a deliberate way that suggests a quiet confidence despite all evidence to the contrary. I mean, Romy’s idea of how to make a graceful exit is to concoct something like:
“Would you excuse me? I cut my foot before, and my shoe is filling up with blood.” (I especially love the choice of the word before instead of the more intelligent earlier.)
By playing off each other’s rhythms, these actresses seem to create a tighter, better film within the larger one. Like Romy and Michele, they score a limited triumph by staying close to their small, strange planet.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” Location: East Sprague, Newport, Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls cinemas Credits: Directed by David Mirkin, starring Mira Sorvino, Lisa Kudrow and Janeane Garofalo Running time: 1:31 Rating: R
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