When Ten Year starts, Channing Tatum is fiddling with something in his glove box. Not long after, his girlfriend (played by real-life wife Jenna Dewan-Tatum) hops in the car and opens the box looking for gum, and he hurriedly closes it and directs her elsewhere. For a moment, there's a breeze of The Big Chill, and the cynic in us might wonder if Jamie Linden's directorial debut will be a reunion with a dark center, a death that comes within the film rather than before it. But Ten Year isn't a reunion drama. In many ways it's Can't Hardly Wait ten years later, a swarm of social types comparing notes and angst ten years later. Unfortunately, it does so without the same magnetic pull.
The film boasts a whopping five main storylines each with at least three or four people. The main vein focuses on Tatum's ex-jock Jake and Rosario Dawson's popular-girl Mary, the star couple from high school who haven't seen each other in years. They're immediately drawn to each other, which sets off a swam of awkwardness with their respective partners. Next is Chris Pratt's Cully and Ari Graynor's Sam. She's the boss and he's the good-natured guy that plays along, but quickly the reasons behind this dynamic are unleashed. He's an uncontrollable drunk and ex-bully hell-bent on getting forgiveness with the many kids he bullied back in school, and she tries to reign him in. Then there's Oscar Isaac's Reeves and Kate Mara's Elise. He's the rock star turning heads, and she's the quiet, awkward girl he never had the guts to publicly like – the one who appears in only one photo on the memory wall, in the background, removed. There's also Justin Long's Marty and Max Minghella's AJ, the single guys eager to drink a lot and schmooze the beautiful party girl Anna (Lynn Collins), which brings out a torrent of problematic adolescent ideas. Finally, there are the rapper boys, a group of friends who are united by a common past but really serve to add slight additions to the reunion dynamics. Anthony Mackie is the outgoing player who thrives on new conquests, Scott Porter is the American living in Japan, and Brian Geraghty is the husband who has kept his high school persona a secret from his wife, Aubrey Plaza. (Think a subdued version of Kenny from CHW, once he normalized.)
Believe it or not, there are more people who pop in and out of the narrative as well, most notably the blonde party planner who immediately brings to mind Melissa Joan Hart in CHW – the girl obsessed with class memories. It's obvious that Linden wanted many of the classic high school social types represented, but rather than doing so in a way that flows organically, the film is bursting at the seams with main cast-members who must fight for the spotlight. Adding insult to injury, every one of these storylines focus on the women as wives, mothers, or paramours. Had there been a cohesive link that this was the story of a group of male friends, an American Pie sort of theme, it'd work, but as it stands, the male-dominated structure is quite the disappointing oversight.
There is simply not enough time for Linden to adequately relay any of the stories to their true potential, and no strict editorial eye to reign some stories in and let others expand. CHW was able to accomplish the mass-cast structure because it all branched from one main character. The hero had a friend who had an interlude in the bathroom, and his paramour had a boyfriend with enemies. Every side story somehow benefited the whole, and each of the handful of main characters then made room for brief appearances by others. In Ten Year, however, a group of friends quickly break off into stories that don't interweave in any way, and all just expand further and further from the center. It doesn't help that Tatum and Dawson's storyline, which is supposed to be the ultimate focus, doesn't hold the chemistry or dramatic punch to pull off their big moment – what went wrong so long ago and where they will go from here. It's a nice moment that speaks well of their characters, but doesn't offer the emotional punch it should. Yet the film is ultimately saved by the tendrils, each of which could have made for a more compelling story on their own.
Hands down, Isaac steals the show by bringing a real charisma and depth that oozes well beyond the constraints of time. He balances the presence of a star with the heart of someone who wants to connect with his high school crush, and Mara adds to that dynamic as the loner girl who came into her own, but still has a mature sense of her earlier loner awkwardness. When he performs his hit song, it's the sweet emotional climax of the film – well before Tatum and Dawson even have their moment.
Chris Pratt's drunk ex-bully is funny, but not really with the same charm that follows his shenanigans on Parks and Rec, whereas his television paramour Aubrey Plaza gets some of the most genuinely funny moments as she watches her husband's youth unfold before her eyes. She has a wonderful genuineness to her reactions when she's not tasked with playing the snarky outsider, and it's nice to see a filmmaker recognizes that (though sad that she's essentially just the wife role). Likewise, when the Marty-AJ-Anna triangle gets tedious, Linden manages to bring it together wonderfully in a way true to the characters and their trajectory.
All of the above make for an occasionally charming experience, but not a cohesively enjoyable one. Ten Year is the sort of film Linden should have either sat on and waited until he had more experience, or he should have pushed the script through a grueling editorial process to excise the superfluous characters and moments to focus on the pieces that really shine. Visually, it moves decently, but it seems to be in an artistic limbo – requiring either a push into a more stylish realm (think the very mobile fervor in CHW), or a more handheld and gritty approach to give an added sense of reality.
Ultimately, Ten Year feels a little like the first Evil Dead. It's a film with promise that would thrive if the filmmaker regrouped, revised, and revisited the material later. As-is, Ten Year manages to capture that late-twenty-something mindset (when a person has moved on yet still holds lingering strands and memories of the past), but doesn't begin to live up to its potential.