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Freewheeling and charming ’10 Years’ aided by its ensemble cast

10 Years

Directed by Jamie Linden

Written by Jamie Linden

USA, 2011

These days, a hangout movie is far rarer than a hangout TV show. Many fans and critics would point to Cougar Town as the best current example of a hangout TV show, as the audience spends 30 minutes each week simply relaxing with the various characters in the Florida-set sitcom. In movies, just kicking back and watching characters ping-pong off each other for two hours doesn’t happen so frequently; when it does, and is done correctly, though, the experience can be a lot of fun. Such is the case with 10 Years, a hangout movie that succeeds almost exclusively because of its impressive ensemble cast.

10 Years has plenty of minor and familiar character-driven subplots, built around the night of a 10-year high school reunion. The film, written and directed by Jamie Linden, begins right before the reunion and ends a few hours after. For the most part, there are two settings: the banquet hall where the reunion is being held and a local bar where the alumni spend the rest of their evening. Linden’s script features a few twists on the typical clichés: the old flames meeting up again, a schoolboy crush being re-ignited, dorky characters pining for the popular girl, and so on. What makes 10 Years so enjoyable isn’t so much Linden’s directing or writing, which isn’t bad but also isn’t exceptional, it’s the wide-ranging cast of potential future stars.

Channing Tatum, who co-produced the film, is Jake, the ostensible lead (in that he has maybe 25 to 30 minutes of screen time as opposed to others having a few minutes less). Jake wants to propose to his longtime girlfriend (Jenna Dewan-Tatum), but stumbles when his childhood sweetheart (Rosario Dawson) returns with her nice if bland husband (Ron Livingston). Chris Pratt of Parks and Recreation plays Cully, an oafish type determined to make amends with the geekier reunion attendees for making their high-school days a mutually shared living hell; he also wants to get very drunk, despite his wife (Ari Graynor) wishing he’d stay sober. And Justin Long and Max Minghella portray best friends trying desperately and disastrously to impress Anna (Lynn Collins), the most beautiful and well-liked girl back when they were in school.

If there’s a winner in this tangle of stories, it’s the one focusing on Reeves (Oscar Isaac, who should have his movie-star moment immediately, thank you very much) and Elise (Kate Mara). Reeves has, in the decade between graduation and reunion, become a massively successful rock star but holds a candle for Elise from all the way back in junior year he hopes to rekindle. Isaac and Mara get to spend most of their story by themselves—many of the other actors have dedicated stories or character traits, but still interact with everyone else—and in doing so, create a natural, unforced chemistry. This is the best section of the film primarily because Isaac and Mara do excellent work at creating characters, not just offshoots of their real-life personas. (An example of the opposite: Scott Porter—best known for his work on Friday Night Lights—plays a character named…Scott Porter.)

Everyone else in 10 Years, from Aubrey Plaza to Brian Geraghty to Anthony Mackie to Long, Minghella, and Collins, is enjoyable to watch. But the less time we get to spend with these people, the more it just feels like we’re stumbling upon their actual high-school reunion. A running gag in 10 Years has a fellow student filming the proceedings (we see a full version in the end credits). In essence, the way that Linden shoots the film, and the fact that we move from character to character, story to story, as if we’re a fellow alum moving slowly across the banquet hall, makes it feel like 10 Years is that documentary the former student shoots. The rambling style, overlapping dialogue, and freewheeling tone all make for something that wants very badly to be Altmanesque; 10 Years is too low-stakes to reach such heights, but it’s charming nonetheless.

Charm can get a person a long way; enough charming people can go even further. 10 Years is mostly unsurprising in where its stories end up; the sole exception, the Long/Minghella plot, is too all over the place in its wrap-up. What the film has is sterling work from a genuinely talented ensemble. Channing Tatum, on the heels of his performances in 21 Jump Street and Magic Mike, is decent here, but not the same breath of fresh air he was in those earlier efforts. Still, 10 Years is a pleasant, laid-back experience. It’s not so much that we get to hang out with fully formed characters. It’s that getting to hang out with a bunch of actors who are happy to hang out with each other is fun all by itself.

— Josh Spiegel