The concept of the high school reunion has been mined plenty of times in a variety of movie genres: horror flicks, raunchy comedies, gangster movies, etc. (I’m presuming that someone is at work on a zombie high school reunion movie, if there isn’t one already.) So writer-director Jamie Linden’s 10 Years, on the face of it, feels a little brave for giving us a high school reunion without some kind of additional twist. It’s just a movie about a bunch of guys and gals returning home for their reunion, with the only twist being that it’s loaded up with stars and recognizable faces. Unfortunately, that serves to highlight the film’s greatest failing, which is that all these big names and faces are given practically nothing to do.
The characters are not only recognizable for their faces, they’re recognizable for their types: There’s popular ex-jock Jake (Channing Tatum) who’s on the verge of asking his girlfriend Jess (Jena Dewan-Tatum, Channing’s real-life wife) to marry him. There’s Jake’s best bud and recovering bully Cully (Chris Pratt) who’s now an alcoholic and still a bit of a douche. There’s the white kid who was really into acting black (Brian Geraghty) whose white wife (Aubrey Plaza) comes as a surprise to his black best friend (Anthony Mackie). There’s the former prom queen (Lynn Collins) who’s still trying to prove that she’s fabulous and available, even though her life, it turns out, is less than perfect. There are the two melancholy schmoes (Max Minghella and Justin Long) who share a friendly-bordering-on-bitter rivalry over which one is sleeping with which models and which one owns a boat. (Turns out — surprise — that both of them are exaggerating.) And of course there’s the guy that hit it big as a musician (Oscar Isaac) and the gorgeous, shy wallflower (Kate Mara) that he secretly had a crush on. Oh, and there’s the beautiful Mary (Rosario Dawson), once the love of Jake’s life, who has since married a somewhat obliviously corporate Ron Livingston. There are actually even more characters, but that’s enough for now.
First things first: The actors are fine. I’m still not sure that Channing Tatum works as a romantic leading man, but he isn’t given too much to do here. Pretty much all of these characters are blandly likable, in basically the same way: The script gives them a couple of scenes of reliving past glories and/or shames, then lets them show some regret over the years gone by, before rallying to face a more forthright, maybe more hopeful future. You could pretty much write this one in your sleep. There’s the obligatory musing from a character that she “never guessed that I would’ve come to something like this ten years later.” There’s the requisite dithering around potential hookups. And of course, there’s the not-exactly-throwaway observation: “Why spend so much time looking back when you’ve got so much to look forward to?”
In other words, these characters could be anybody. Unfortunately, none of them appears to be somebody. Every character feels like an archetype of some sort, which gives the film a calculating, hesitant quality. You like them just enough to want to spend a bit more time with them, but you fear that even if you did, the film would probably just offer up more hedging and dodging in its attempt to appeal to all bases.
To be fair, there are instances where it comes to life: A scene where Cully repeatedly, embarrassingly apologizes to a table full of nerds he bullied in high school manages to be both funny and cringing. Geraghty and Plaza’s characters share some warm, winning moments as she discovers this new “wigger” side to her husband. But still, you keep wanting somebody to do something truly stupid, or evil, or at the very least unexpected — if only to convince us that these characters are human in any recognizably unique way. Maybe the idea is that we fill in the details with our own life experiences, and audiences may well respond to a movie that provides a template more than a story. But that’s hardly a satisfying idea for a movie. 10 Years is harmless, to a fault.