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Wayback Wednesday: 17 Again (2009)

Besides having slightly more energy, was anyone actually thriving at 17?

Picture it: April 2009. Fresh off the high of seeing the newly-released, Hannah Montana: The Movie (2009) – check out my review for that movie, here – my friends and I decided to see another highly-anticipated release from a rising Disney star exactly one week later. We put on our Hollister sweaters, grabbed our LG Rumors, and begged a parent to drop us off at the theatre. When we went to see 17 Again (2009) I remember being in awe of Zac Efron’s charisma, laughing really hard, and wanting to watch it again and again. Over the next few years, I watched the shit out of this movie. I loved it! This time around, my first viewing in at least four years, I found that while it was still fun, 17 Again lacked the magic that first made me taken with it. Shockingly, the comedy of a daughter mistakenly being attracted to her father did not hold up. As expected though, Efron’s charisma MORE than holds up. 

Credit: / Warner. Bros Pictures

17 Again follows Mike O’Donnell, a middle-aged man unhappy with the way his life turned out after dropping out of high school to become a father and husband. When he is magically transformed into his 17-year-old self, he sees it as a chance to recapture his high school glory and get the life he always wanted. What he learns though is that helping his wife and children are more important than his own needs. 

I’m not going to lie to you guys. When it comes to magical body transformation movies, my favourites are the good ol’ classics like, Freaky Friday (2003) and 13 Going on 30 (2004). Believe me, I love a Zac Efron comedy as much as the next guy, but there’s just no beating the brilliance of Jamie Lee Curtis or Jennifer Garner. Seriously, rewatch those movies and revel in how unbelievably committed each actress is to their performance. They’re transformative. 17 Again keeps the same light, breezy tone of the movies that came before it, but in my opinion, fails to reach the bar set by its predecessors. The movie lacks the unbridled joy that comes from watching 13 Going on 30, as well as the emotional punch that Freaky Friday delivers. When it comes to tone and plot, the movie is a little lacklustre. Mike helping his family never feels as urgent as I imagine it’s meant to, and the scenes of rekindling his romance with his wife are more formulaic than swoon-worthy. Surprisingly, a lot less happens during the course of this mediocre teen comedy than I remember. Efron gets in a handful of monologues, there’s a quick montage, two scenes of Efron and Leslie Mann flirting, two party scenes, and then the end. 17 Again may not take you on as much of a memorable journey as other magical body transformation movies, but it still manages to squeeze in a few delightful moments of its own.

The best parts of 17 Again come from any time that Efron and Thomas Lennon, who plays Mike’s best friend, Ned, share the screen together. The pair supply the movie with enough laughs to break up the less interesting scenes of Mike trying to stitch his family back together and I couldn’t be more thankful. Come on. Is your favourite part of this movie the scene where Mike consoles his daughter, Maggie, after a breakup? Or is it absolutely where an atrociously dressed Mike and Ned try to enroll “Mark” in high school? Exactly. The movie as a whole could have used much more of Efron and Lennon’s playful chemistry and “isn’t it funny that I look like a teenager but act like an adult?” jokes, and much less of Mike and his son playing basketball. Or basketball in general. Seriously, there was so much importance placed on Efron’s character playing basketball that I thought I was watching another High School Musical (2006 – 2008) movie. He even dances in the gym during a basketball game! The basketball, and really anything to do with Mike’s kids, are much less engaging than I remember from my multiple viewings when I was 13. This time around I frequently found myself drifting off and being unable to stay focused on what was going on. Hmmm. Maybe my love for Efron blinded me to how surface-level 17 Again actually is? It’s still an okay movie perfect for movie nights with your friends, but it’s certainly not AS great as I remember. Y’know what is though? Zac. Freaking. Efron.

In his first post High School Musical role, playing teenage Mike O’Donnell was a great stepping stone in Efron’s rise to becoming one of Hollywood’s most sought-after leading men. And a necessary one. In 17 Again Efron gets the chance to flex his acting muscles. And his actual muscles, actually. He gets to dip his toes into comedy, drama, and romance, proving to be the undisputed shining star of the movie. As a testament to Efron’s undeniable charisma, he really has chemistry with everyone in the cast, lighting up the screen with his presence. Which is even more of an accomplishment because he was working through a rough wig. He sparkles with Lennon, Mann, and Michelle Trachteberg, who, by the way, are all underrated performers. Sidenote, the movie should have really let Trachtenberg play to her strengths and given her character more attitude. Maybe I’m just a Georgina Sparks stan, but I think she’s at her best when she gets to play a character with more fire. By the way, why did we as a people let Sterling Knight flop? He really could have gone all the way and established an Efron-level glow up of his own. He’s a comedic scene-stealer in this movie who I would have enjoyed seeing more from. Acting that is. Definitely less basketball.

I’ll be rewatching 17 Again in the future, but I think my glory days of loving it are behind me. They’ve been left behind in 2009 with my Hollister hoodie and my LG Rumor. Which was the world’s comfiest sweater and the world’s best phone, FYI. A cute little product of its time, 17 Again is still a fun movie that anyone looking to recapture a spark of their teenagerhood will appreciate. Oh my God…me at 17…My clothes were uglier but hey, I had fewer responsibilities. Hmmmm, maybe I should find a magic janitor to turn back the clock on my decrepit, 24-year-old self.

Are you a fan of 17 Again? What’s your favourite Zac Efron movie?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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