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School reunions are rarely memorable occasions for the dates and spouses of alumni, who don’t have all those shared memories to revisit or old bonds to renew. In the early action of Ten Year, the audience is more or less in that sidelined position, checking nametags to keep track of multiple characters, smiling at new acquaintances but remaining somewhat removed from all the fun. Jamie Linden’s minor-key serio-comedy pulls us in eventually, delivering its share of poignant insights and melancholy reflections, even if it does all feel a tad familiar.
The gold standard for modern American reunion movies remains The Big Chill, which had the advantage of being about a later-in-life gathering, providing additional decades of experience to process. It also had a built-in catharsis, given that the group of college friends came together not to party but to mourn.
This feature debut from screenwriter Linden (Dear John, We Are Marshall) aims in the general direction of Lawrence Kasdan’s 1983 film, albeit in a lighter vein. He coaxes his characters – all approaching 30 — to take stock of their lives after 10 years out in the real world, reflecting on what they have given up or gained, and showing that some have arrived at mature self-knowledge while others still struggle with it.
Rather than focus on how the reunion’s collision of past and present effects one or two central figures, Linden keeps a whole fleet of them on his radar. This gives the film a busy canvas of overlapping storylines, some more involving than others. It also makes room for a crowded ensemble of solid talent, whose roles reportedly were tailored around them.
Closest to being a lead is Channing Tatum, who worked with Linden on Dear John and is also a producer here. He plays Jake, who has bought the ring but continues to stall on proposing to girlfriend Jess (the actor’s real-life wife Jenna Dewan-Tatum). His composure is tested when former flame Mary (Rosario Dawson) unexpectedly arrives with her older husband (Ron Livingston).
Also attending is successful musician Reeves (Oscar Isaac), who carried a torch through high school for quiet, withdrawn Elise (Kate Mara). Bully-turned-family man Cully (Chris Pratt) plans to spend the evening apologizing to all the geeks he harassed, but the sloppy drunk’s idea of atonement is equally aggressive. Anna (Lynn Collins) revives the party spirit that made her Miss Popularity, while buddies Marty (Justin Long) and AJ (Max Minghella) compete for her attentions. And fast-talking player Andre (Anthony Mackie) reveals that his old homeboy Garrity (Brian Geraghty) wasn’t always such a picture of lily-white conventionality.
The film ambles along with intermittent laughs, but without much promise that it’s building toward anything substantial. So even if it’s achieved a little mechanically, it’s a welcome turn when, during the after-party, surface layers are peeled back and the characters expose their disenchantments and insecurities. This also gives the actors the chance to do more nuanced work.
Collins has touching moments when the vast difference between Anna’s high school persona and her life these days becomes apparent. Mara brings a sweet delicacy to the surprise and awkwardness with which oblivious Elise becomes aware of Reeves’ feelings. As Cully’s wife and designated driver, Ari Graynor maintains a note of resilient affection beneath her angry embarrassment, with Pratt navigating the transition from ebullient to overbearing to pathetic.
But the majority of the film’s somewhat too diffuse emotional heft comes from the tender scenes between Tatum and Dawson’s characters, left alone after the early exits of their respective partners to work through their residual romance.
The production looks crisp and polished, but while end credits reveal that shooting took place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the story could be happening in Anytown, U.S.A. A more defined sense of place and hint of some kind of regional identity in the characters might have given Ten Year the distinctive personality it lacks. The film nonetheless should speak to audiences of the generation portrayed onscreen, feeling nostalgic for their breezy high school years while still testing the waters of full-fledged adulthood.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Cast: Lynn Collins, Rosario Dawson, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Brian Geraghty, Ari Graynor, Oscar Isaac, Ron Livingston, Justin Long, Anthony Mackie, Kate Mara, Max Minghella, Eiko Nijo, Aubrey Plaza, Scott Porter, Chris Pratt, Channing Tatum
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