American Reunion (review)

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Tricky things, high school reunions, dredging up all sorts of uncomfortable memories about navigating that cusp between childhood and adulthood, and all sorts of newfound fears about the disconnect between the expectations we had at the time for our future lives and where we actually ended up. The whole awkward, conflicted emotional muddle takes center stage in the nimble, unsentimental, surprisingly poignant American Reunion, by the end of which we’ve grown to become an intimate member of the gang of former best friends — and one outsider with a secret — of the class of 1981 who’ve come together for their twentieth reunion. With the addition of some new scenes and a heartfelt new soundtrack replete with appropriately bluesy tunes, this is a spiffed-up version of Reunion: dogme 17, a Dogme95-compliant film that made the festival rounds in 2001 (director Mark Poggi worked on the new film; Leif Tilden directed the original). And happily, it seethes with the emotional energy and the startling honesty of that filmmaking discipline, and none of the self-consciousness. The smart script, by producers Kimberly Shane O’Hara and Eric M. Klein, unfolds slowly, letting familiar high-school types — the cool guy, the overachiever — reveal their new, grownup selves reluctantly, aware of what we’ll be anticipating for them and never allowing them to descend to the clichés we suspect they’ll be. And the smarter cast — full of unknown and almost-famous faces who deserve to be seen more, especially Andres Faucher, Jennifer Rubin, and Rainer Judd — embodies them with a bold energy that makes them recognizable (Hey, I went to school with a guy like that!) and warmly, messily human. You won’t be sorry you made time for this Reunion; you’ll marvel, in fact, at how these characters now feel like long-lost friends suddenly found again.

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