Of course you'll give another high school reunion movie a shot. The sweet desperation-pie-filled-with-hot-boredom aftertaste of American Reunion only lasted so long, after all. And you didn't intentionally ignore your own high school reunion. You just forgot the directions to your hometown. Clearly, permanently losing touch with all but the most relentless Facebook chasers wasn't some sort of master plan on your part. You had every intention of keeping up. So it stands to reason that soaking in a hot tub time machine of long-gestating resentments, unrequited crushes, woulda-couldas and failures with a bunch of fictional characters, all of whom graduated from the crosstown rival magnet school for unusually hot people, would be just the sort of moviegoing experience you had in mind. How close am I to being right?
Turns out I'm wrong. Not about your own reunion, of course. You still don't want to go to that. But the uniformly attractive class of 2002 isn't bad company for a hundred minutes or so, and in the hands of writer-director Jamie Linden you'll suffer through none of that nothing-to-say-to-someone-you-never-liked-anyway awkwardness. In alphabetical order the reunionites are: Lynn Collins, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Rosario Dawson, Brian Geraghty, Ari Graynor, Oscar Isaac, Ron Livingston, Justin Long, Anthony Mackie, Kate Mara, Max Minghella, Aubrey Plaza, Scott Porter, Chris Pratt and Channing Tatum. Don't shut it down because of him, by the way. It's not his fault he's been in 13 movies so far this year. Blame studio release schedules for that.
The stock types are represented, their bemused and/or impatient plus-one spouses along for the ride, their troubles more familiar than the girl who won't stop talking about band camp. But the acting gang here seems to be on a very long, loose leash. You can feel a mutual generosity, dialogue and story lines come off unforced and half-scripted, half-improvised. Entire sequences aim for (and sometimes happily approximate) a Robert Altman-esque, everybody-talking-at-once atmosphere. There are plenty of laughs, but whatever play-it-safe marketing you see that suggests a wacky comedy is at least half a lie, since easy gags are less important than creating characters that feel true. That's tough when there are so many people on screen, so some of them necessarily feel more like stray notes than whole songs, but standouts arrive in the form of Dawson, who makes regret feel graceful, and Collins, thoroughly unsentimental but moving as the party girl whose party days are way over. Meanwhile, Pratt and Graynor, as the popular kids who stayed in town and got married, move through enough stages of bitterness, stifled anger, drunken silliness and bandage-ripping resentment to warrant their own movie.
As American life moves toward a permanent level of adult immaturity, with the years from 18 to 30 now considered the second half of adolescence, a period of time when a do-over is still more than plausible, the stakes on screen aren't especially urgent. The most you usually learn in that decade is that you're not that special and probably never were. So what if all of these actors, as the same characters, come back in 10 years to the same hotel ballroom and karoake bar, fatter and drunker and sadder and balder and all those other -ers? And then again at 48? And 58, with time running out with each decade's reunion? That's a comedy franchise nobody's really tried yet (if you don't count those British Up documentaries) and one I'd really like to see.