The modestly likable ensemble dramedy “10 Years” is just like hanging out at a high school reunion, vicariously through appealing, identifiable peopleâ€”it’s awkward, amusing, nostalgic, and enjoyable. If the reunion staple seems a bit too “been there, done that,” especially after “American Reunion” this April, the feature debut of screenwriter Jamie Linden (2010’s “Dear John”) invitingly drops us into this rite of passage, floating through the lives of 28 year olds with a loose, relaxed, free-wheeling style. As a live-action yearbook and snapshot of growing up and revisiting the past, “10 Years” is thankfully more Robert Altman than Garry Marshall.
Set during the night of a 10-year reunion for Lake Howell High School’s Class of 2002, the film begins and ends with prom-king-turned-mortgage-broker Jake (Channing Tatum) and his girlfriend of three and a half years, Jess (Jenna Dewan-Tatum). For eight months, he’s been planning on proposing to her, but Jake just can’t find the perfect moment to pop the question. While Jess is excited to get the dirt on her beau and gladly accompanies him to the reunion, Jake still holds out hope that his high school sweetheart, Mary (Rosario Dawson), will show up, and she does but with her straight-arrow husband, Paul (Ron Livingston).
Before hitting the reunion, Jake and Jess arrive at the home of Cully (Chris Pratt), a brash former jock who’s gained weight, and Sam (Ari Graynor), his wife who’s ready to get away from their two kids for the night. Cully was such a jerk in high school that he makes it his goal to apologize to all the geeks (particularly Aaron Yoo’s Peter Jung) that he harassed back in the day by buying them drinks, but falls back into his old habits when going overboard on the drink. Also present are the successful Marty (Justin Long) and the married Aj (Max Minghella), old buddies talking up their lives and ending up vying to impress Anna (Lynn Collins), the former “It girl” who hopes to have retained her glory-day glow. Reeves (Oscar Isaac) has become an on-the-road rock star since most of his peers have last seem him, so every girl wants to praise him or take their picture with him, but he’s more interested in Elise (Kate Mara), a twice-divorced loner from his science class that hasn’t even heard his music. Scott (Scott Porter) came back from Tokyo with his Japanese wife (Eiko Nijo). In another social circle, Garrity (Brian Geraghty) arrives with wife Olivia (Aubrey Plaza), who’s stunned to discover from his unsettled friend, Andre (Anthony Mackie), that her hubby used to act “black” in high school. By the end of the night, some will come to terms with their own immaturity and the real lives they’re ashamed of, some might get a do-over, and others just simply reunite.
Are there many surprises here? Not a ton, but here, there is an air of authenticity rather than contrivance. This being a roving ensemble film, it’s tough to fully form more than a dozen characters in 100 minutes, but while some arcs are more interesting than others, everyone gets their turn to shine and is able to create a real, dimensional character. Every actor is natural and the camera eats each of them up. Linden gives his huge cast so much breathing room that from scene to scene it’s up to their performances, improvisation, and his scripted dialogue to show us how these characters have progressed, which is more desirable than desperately stooping to cheesy flashbacks.
Speaking of performances, they are all worth mentioning. Tatum (serving as a producer on this project) leads the way as Jake. If his banner year of hitherto four performances hasn’t already clued audiences into his detectable range, this should hopefully seal the deal. Not only is his Jake charismatic and appealingly uncertain, but Tatum’s off-camera relationship with real-life wife Jenna (they fell in love while making “Step Up”) translates into lovely chemistry on screen. Dewan-Tatum’s Jess is sweet and supportive, never the clichÃ© you expect her to be. The always-resplendent Dawson, who could have been stuck in “the other girl” role, fills Jess with grace and intelligence. There’s a particularly telling moment of her history with Jake when she recalls their prom night spent together in the hospital. Pratt, always hilarious as a lout, has a tricky tightrope to walk as Cully, now a family man who’s still obnoxious but sympathetic. Graynor could’ve very well played Sam as a shrill harpy; instead, she’s a long-suffering woman who resents babysitting her adult husband but still loves him. Collins is just plain terrific, bringing layers and pathos to the ex-party girl who, after the festivities, has to go home to her real life. As usual, Long does his amiable thing, and he and Minghella play off each other quite well. Isaac is charming rather than smarmy, and he shares a sweet chemistry with Mara. Plaza also owns up to her deliciously dry comic timing and supplies her Olivia with a nice arc. This cast is such good company that one can hardly wait to see them all return for a ’40 Years.’
When the old friends leave the reunion to continue partying at the local karaoke bar called Pretzels, it’s there that deeper emotions come to the forefront and truths are unveiled. We never find out just why Jake and Mary broke upâ€”it’s been eight years since they last spokeâ€”but it doesn’t really matter. They both have grown up, are now in separate committed relationships, and following an awkward hug, they just want to catch up and take care of unfinished business. As someone aptly puts it, “we all have our own messes.” Reeves is called up to sing his own hit song “Never Had,” and the song itself is not only magic to the ears, but the lyrics hold an even more affecting meaning for Elise. Passion Pit’s cover of The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” also becomes the perfect anthem to end the night.
The marketing for “10 Years” is almost selling this as a wacky antic-filled comedy. There are laughs to be sure (take Pratt’s karaoke butchering of “Lady in Red” for instance), but the film never strains to be funny; unforced humor springs organically from the characters. “10 Years” may not forge any new ground, but it creates its own solid memories. Whereas “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” beautifully captured the essence of being in high school, this “Big Chill” peer captures the growth out of high school.
100 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: B +