‘I Want You Back’ review: an endearing treat for fans of the slow-burn rom-com


After you get dumped, it’s not uncommon to wallow in nostalgia or obsess over what could have been. Post-breakup, it’s typical to consume copious amounts of alcohol, stalk an ex’s social media accounts, and shed enough tears to fill a bathtub. But it’s not every day you get dumped and fortuitously meet a stranger who also got dumped the same weekend.

That’s where I Want You Back’s real love story begins.

In the cold open of the two-hour rom-com, directed by Jason Orley and written by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, Peter (Charlie Day) and Emma (Jenny Slate) get kicked to the curb by their longtime respective partners.

Peter’s girlfriend of six years, Anne (Gina Rodriguez), ends things because she wants “a big life” and feels he’s too complacent. She’s tired of being with a dude whose ultimate night out is a Rod Stewart concert, and she goes on to find a new, exciting romance with the ridiculously sexy Logan (Manny Jacinto). Meanwhile, Emma’s boyfriend of more than a year, Noah (Scott Eastwood), claims she doesn’t have her life together. At age 32, she lacks direction and awkwardly lives with two college students. But mostly, Noah’s ready to move on because he met Ginny (Clark Backo), a stunning, independent woman who runs her own pie shop down the street from his gym.

Just Instagram stalking the exes again.
Credit: Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Anne and Noah are clearly thriving in their new phases of life, while Peter and Emma are having emotional breakdowns at work. After a messy meet-cute, the two become a match made in misery and hatch a chaotic plan to sabotage their respective exes’ new relationships and win them back.

That plan isn’t what you’d initially expect. Rather than pull a classic rom-com move and pretend to date each other to make their exes jealous, Emma sets out to seduce Logan and Peter sets out to friendship-seduce Noah. The two dumpees spend most of the film scheming and pining over relationships past, but along the way they form an unexpected friendship and have their fair share of sweet, earnest moments together.

[Slate and Day] shine as heartbroken hot messes who desperately want their search for soulmates to be over, and their shared sense of humor proves to be ceaselessly charming.

Like most rom-coms, I Want You Back is predictable, but it puts a fresh spin on the typical friends-to-lovers trope and has a unique ending that will make fans of the slow-burn romance cheer at their screens. The film’s pacing alternates between speedy montages and deeply drawn-out scenes that could use tightening — the entire second act is one night — but the soundtrack slaps. Siddhartha Khosla‘s score will soothe your soul, and the stacked cast will keep you engaged. In addition to its noteworthy leads, you’ll also see cameos from Pete Davidson and one O.C. actor. (I won’t dare deprive you of that delightful reveal.)

Every successful rom-com has a source of authentic chemistry, and Slate and Day’s natural rapport delivers. The two shine as heartbroken hot messes who desperately want their search for soulmates to be over, and their shared sense of humor proves to be ceaselessly charming. 

I Want You Back doesn’t paint its characters as wrongdoers for ending relationships, nor does it neatly tie up loose threads that unraveled after those breakups. Instead, it offers welcomed, occasionally comical depictions of heartbreak and self-discovery, and explores the ways friendship can heal, inspire self-love, and slowly evolve into something more. 

What makes this rom-com a rarity is that it isn’t the overwhelming type, fueled by grand romantic gestures and passionate declarations of affection. As it distracts with off-the-rails hijinks designed to win back old flames, a new love story is quietly being written in the background. Before you know it, two hours have passed and Peter and Emma have gotten under your skin.

I Want You Back is now streaming on Prime Video.