This review originally appeared in The West Australian on April 13
17 Again is rated PG, stars Zac Efron, Leslie Mann and Matthew Perry and was directed by Burr Steers
I gave it 3 stars
Parents of girls at the younger end of the tween spectrum be warned; there’s at least one scene you might need to explain to your daughters in Zac Efron’s leap from the G to the PG-rated market. Or, forewarned, you could take a well-timed toilet or popcorn break.
Efron is Mike O’Donnell, a father-of-two who magically goes back to his teen body and high school after losing his way in his adult life.
During a sex education class with his pouty daughter Maggie (played by Buffy and Gossip Girl alumni Michelle Trachtenberg), Mike fears she is preparing to sleep with her boyfriend Stan, the school’s resident bully/meathead/basketball captain.
So Mike leaps up and gives a rousing and heartfelt spiel about love and saving yourself, preferably until marriage, resulting in all the students handing back their free condoms; except Stan.
Efron proves himself an engaging performer in this family comedy married with a romantic comedy about second chances and personal choices and responsibility.
At the start and end of the film, grown-up Mike is played by Matthew Perry and it’s a shame he doesn’t get more screen time.
Back in 1989 Mike gave up the chance at a basketball career to marry his pregnant girlfriend Scarlet (Leslie Mann) and now finds himself on the verge of divorce and in a dead end job where he has been waiting to be promoted for 16 years.
Full of self-loathing and unfulfilled dreams, Mike ends up at the home of his filthy rich but super-geeky friend Ned (Thomas Lennon), the high school nerd who made a fortune from IT and now owns every bit of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings memorabilia money can buy.
An utterly corny encounter with a mysterious high school janitor/spirit guide results in Mike waking up muddied, muddled and 17 again – complete with bogus permed hair that makes even heart-throb Efron look like a dork.
With Ned posing as his father, Mike goes back to high school to see if he can fix his life. Along the way he learns Kevin Federline is not a fashion icon, that his son Alex is being bullied and that Maggie is preparing to throw her college prospects away for Stan.
More importantly, Mike realises the journey is not just about him getting a second chance. In his teenaged guise, Mike is getting to connect with Alex and Maggie in ways he never could in as their dad.
The man in a boy’s body also leads to some seriously funny but inappropriate scenes with Scarlet, who is no Mrs Robinson but thinks young Mike thinks she’s a cougar.
It is never really explained why Scarlet is the only one who notices Ned’s “bastard” son Mike looks like her husband did as a teenager but it doesn’t really matter, so implausible is the entire whimsical premise.
There will be little harm done in letting young High School Musical fans watch Efron in his first major non-musical role (he does get to bust a move to some 80s hip hop) while older sisters and brothers might even absorb some of sage Mike’s mature-for-his-age advice.
Director Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down) also caters for parents of a certain generation with plenty of pop culture and sci-fi references courtesy of Thomas Lennon’s scene-stealing turn as the hopeless-with-women Ned.
Plus, it never hurts to be reminded we can’t always blame others for our failures and unhappiness. Sometimes those dreams just need to be re-tweaked to be realised.