Boys who bully other kids may cause bumps and bruises, but You Again argues that girls are the meanest of all, inflicting psychological scars that take a lifetime to heal. When the hotshot publicist Marni (Kristen Bell) returns home to attend her older brother's wedding, she's horrified to discover that his fiance is Joanna (Odette Yustman), the tall, beautiful cheerleader who made life hell for her in high school - and conveniently seems to have forgotten the constant torture and humiliation she inflicted on Marni as a teenager.
Meanwhile, Marni's mom Gail (Jamie Lee Curtis) is, like the rest of the family, infatuated with her sweet, loving soon-to-be daughter-in-law, until she meets Joanna's sole relative - phenomenally wealthy Aunt Ramona (an amusingly pompous Sigourney Weaver), who embarrassed Gail in spectacular fashion at their high-school prom. Like her niece, Ramona seems not to remember the incident, and with the wedding only a couple of days away, mother and daughter decide to swallow their pride and play nice, as if nothing had ever happened. But old grudges die hard - especially those borne in high school.
You Again has a clever central premise, and it has been cast well by director Andy Fickman: Pitting soccer mom Curtis against the jet-setting Weaver leads to an amusing passive-aggressive war in which the combatants are all kisses and hugs on the outside, but coiled and ready to strike on the inside.
Bell, a likable screen presence, is good at conveying Marni's absolute horror at the prospect of her former arch enemy having wormed her way into the family and charming everyone (even the dog now prefers Joanna). You Again is at its funniest in the early scenes, when everyone is pretending all is well beneath forced smiles and plotting eyes. A dance-off at a rehearsal led by a wedding planner extraordinaire (Kristin Chenoweth) is an amusing bit of physical comedy, with the four women trying to out-do each other while the men have no idea of the battle of one-upmanship being waged in front of them.
But once the gloves come off, and the claws come out - just when the film should erupt into full-blown farce - the script by Moe Jelline takes a melodramatic turn and You Again loses the funny in favor of sentimentality and tears. Fickman directs the movie in the same bland, assembly-line style of his previous pictures (The Game Plan, Return to Witch Mountain), and, although the humor is never fully abandoned, watching Curtis and Weaver falling into a swimming pool and splashing water at each other doesn't exactly make for high comedy.
The cast also includes Betty White in a small role as Marni's grandmother, but her presence feels like an afterthought to capitalize on the actress' career resurgence after last summer's hit The Proposal. She, like the rest of the women, often behaves in inscrutable ways contrived to propel the plot forward. This is the sort of story that relies from its outset on the fact that people have decided not to tell the truth that would have saved everyone a lot of grief and distress. "I don't pretend to have a clue how things work in the girl world,'' laments Mark (Victor Garber) after seeing how his wife and daughter have apparently lost their marbles over ancient rivalries. Here is one case in which father definitely knows best.
Cast: Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver, Odette Yustman, Victor Garber, James Wolk, Kristin Chenoweth,
Director: Andy Fickman.
Screenwriter: Moe Jelline.
Producers: Andy Fickman, John J. Strauss, Eric Tannenbaum.
A Touchstone Pictures release. Running time: 105 minutes. Mild vulgar language, severely inane behavior. Opens Friday Sept. 24 at area theaters.