Hello, everyone! I just got my wisdom teeth pulled today so I’m taking off from school for a few days…which means more time to write blog posts! Today I re-watched 17 Again, once one of my favorite teen movies, but after this re-watching I’ve come to see it in a new light. For one, it’s light and fluffy, but has an injection of nastiness that I never noticed before. It’s self-aware, but mean-spirited, and not in a clever way like Heathers. And for all of Zac Efron’s charm, the movie ultimately suffers from the premise’s unhealthy May-December romance that is oblivious to its own faults.
Mike O’Donnell’s (Matthew Perry) life never turned out quite how he pictured it. When his girlfriend Scarlet (Leslie Mann) became pregnant in their senior year of high school, Mike sacrificed his dreams of playing college basketball to get married and raise a family. Eighteen years later, Mike has stagnated; Scarlet is divorcing him, his children, 18 y/o Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg) and 16 y/o Alex (Sterling Knight) want nothing to do with him, and he’s been fired from his job. His best friend Ned (Thomas Lennon), a Bill Gates style billionaire, is his only solace. When he meets a mysterious janitor, however, he’s transformed into his 17 y/o self and realizes that in order to regain his true form, he must mend his relationship with his wife and children.
The heart of the movie is a gem, teaching us to value our family, to value our opportunities, and to forgive ourselves for past mistakes. Zac Efron is adept at expressing the movie’s main message. With every sad smirk, tearful monolgue, and endearing, wry smile, I cry a little inside, knowing that he could pull a McConaughey if he just stopped doing stupid Seth Rogen movies and went back to dancing! HE’S SUCH A GOOD DANCER WHY IS HE WASTING HIS YOUTH LIKE THIS!
When Zac Efron sees that Alex is being bullied, his solutions are to 1) get him on the basketball team and 2) get him his dream girl. These may help Alex’s self-esteem, but they don’t actually attack the root of the problem, which is the fact that Alex lives in fear every day of being hurt by his own sister’s boyfriend. In the same way, he sees that his daughter Maggie is in a toxic relationship with Stan, but instead of trying to address her low self-esteem issues, he badgers her until she and Stan break up, and then has to rebuff her when she tries to seduce him, believing that he was the “nice boy” that she deserved.
On one hand, the movie acknowledges that Stan is worse than your average bully. That’s important, because many teen movies treat high school bullies like mere nuisances, rather than the violent abusers they really are. On the other hand, the movie acts like Zac Efron is doing a great job helping his children, when all he’s really doing is delaying their problems.
His third goal, to reunite with his wife, is cute, but also sort of gross. His desire to save their marriage stems from his jealousy that she is moving on without him, not his actual love for her. And she, who at the beginning is so full of enmity towards her soon-to-be-ex-husband that she drops his possessions in the woodchipper, is quick to be won over by a gorgeous 17 y/o Zac Efron, who is only a year older than her son. The Zefron and Leslie Mann have great chemistry, but once you begin to comprehend the implications of their relationship (she could be his mother), it’s kind of sketchy.Not to mention, why is young, handsome Mike O’Donnell so much more adept at sharing his emotions with his wife than his older, selfish self? Old Mike and Young Mike are very different people, which makes the fact that Leslie Mann ends up with Old Matthew Perry instead of Young Zac Efron sort of a tragedy. We, the viewer, have seen Zac Efron’s love for her, but not Perry’s, and with such a drastic difference between the two versions of Mike O’ Donnell, can we really be sure that his new-found understanding will carry forward for more than a few months?
There are other issues with the movie that come down to the way writer Jason Filardi portrays the female characters. They are either, like Maggie and all of her friends, lusty schoolgirls desperate to throw themselves at a handsome boy, or, like Scarlet, Alex’s crush, and the principal who Ned longs for, the “dream girl” who is waiting to be won over. The principal is the worst example of this “dream girl,” as she frequently and adamantly refuses Ned’s requests for a date, but he persists nonetheless, only ceasing after he blackmails her into dating him with the promise of free computers for all of her students. This sort of sexism is not unusual for teen movies, and I wouldn’t fault 17 Again so hard if it weren’t for the fact that even though young/ old Mike O’Donnell has had years and years of experience with women, he still treats teenage girls, and his very own daughter, as if they were damsels-in-distress. It also doesn’t help that he says this line when he hears that his not-yet-divorced wife has a date with another man:
17 Again has its faults like any other teen movies. In some ways, it’s superior to other high school fodder. It’s funny, it has great music, and it stars Zac Efron, who is the essence of teen perfection. However, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to see the movies that I’ve loved for so long in entirely different lights. Perhaps it’s an effect of maturation, or perhaps I’m developing a more critical eye, but I can’t watch these sorts of movies with the joyful abandon that I used to. I’ll still watch 17 Again when I need something comforting, or an easy laugh, but I’ll never be able to think of it with the same high regard that I used to.
My love for the Zefron, however, will never change.
I considered writing an entire post about how I think Zac Efron needs to return to musicals, or at least more serious roles than deejays, but then I realized why do that when I could end this post with a series of videos of the Zefron dancing? Enjoy.
Not to mention all of the non-musicals that he has dance scenes in, like The Paperboy, Neighbors, New Years Eve, 17 Again, We Are Your Friends, and I’m sure plenty others which I have not yet seen. There’s no denying that like Adam Shankman said, the Zefron has a gift. We need the real Zefron back.