The ‘Friends’/HSM connection

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 8:00 am

This week, there are new releases in both theaters and on DVD pairing “High School Musical” stars with alumnae from “Friends.” It’s a little disconcerting to see our “Friends” playing parents of teenagers, however. Lisa Kudrow is the mother of the main character who likes Vanessa Hudgens in “Bandslam” and Matthew Perry plays the father of two high school students who is magically transformed into his 17-year-old self, played by Zac Efron. It’s great to see both Kudrow and Perry on screen and their impeccable timing and ability to make an instant connection to the audience is evident in both films. And it is nice to see them passing the baton to such worthy young performers.

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17 Again

Posted on August 11, 2009 at 8:00 am

There’s nothing new in the storyline, which mixes a little “Freaky Friday” with a bit of “Back to the Future,” but it is a lot of fun to watch Zac Efron take center stage with plenty of star power in his first real leading role.

Efron plays Mike, a high school basketball star whose future plans are derailed when his girlfriend becomes pregnant. When he gets to middle age (played by Matthew Perry) he is losing his job, separated from his wife, and estranged from his teenage children. He is also losing his sense of who he was and estranged from his sense of who he wants to be. And he is living with his only friend, the nerdy, inappropriate, but devoted, wealthy, and very funny Ned (Thomas Lennon of “Reno 911”).

A bit of hocus-pocus from a kindly old janitor (Brian Doyle-Murray) and suddenly Mike is, well, the title says it all. It is a bit disconcerting to find himself dealing with hormones but he relishes the extra energy and the ability to eat endless amounts of junk food. At first he thinks the transformation is going to give him a chance to have a different outcome for himself, maybe get that basketball scholarship this time, but then he realizes the purpose of the transformation is to give him a second chance with his family. Mike is soon re-enrolled in high school (as “Mark”), where he gets a very different perspective on his son (Sterling Knight) and daughter (Michelle Trachtenberg). He begins to see his wife (Leslie Mann) differently, too. Only she thinks he is her son’s high school friend and is a little freaked out by the way he seems so familiar — in both senses of the term.

Various complications and mix-ups ensue, especially when Ned falls for the high school principal (“The Office’s” Melora Hardin). But other than overdoing some Oedipal situations and a few crude jokes, the movie veers away from the most obvious avenues for humor. There’s very little about changes in culture and it’s fairly light on slapstick and humiliation. Instead, it relies primarily on charm and unabashed sweetness that perfectly suits Efron’s easy grace. In an early scene, he jumps from the basketball game into a cheerleader routine, filled with the pleasure of joining in, and having so much fun it is impossible not to smile.

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Comedy Fantasy
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