The Past is Present, by David Bax
High school reunions are fun. Mine was, at least. I credit that to the fact that, unlike most movie characters, I didn’t attend it with some big, cathartic purpose in mind. Of course, the possibility for cheap, manufactured revelations is the exact reason high school reunion movies get made in the first place. That’s why Jamie Linden’s directorial debut, 10 Years, came as such a pleasant surprise. While the film does contain much catharsis and revelation, those tend to emerge organically from the naturalism of the approach. Well, most of it does, anyway.
10 Years is an ensemble film and, as such, has a very loose and inclusive plot with a multitude of smaller storylines laced throughout. It’s a ten year high school reunion and we follow a handful of attendees, most of whom were friends to one extent or another a decade previous. The cast list is the film’s main marketing tool and I won’t deprive you of it here. Lynn Collins, Rosario Dawson, Brian Geraghty, Ari Graynor, Oscar Isaac, Ron Livingston, Justin Long, Anthony Mackie, Kate Mara, Max Minghella, Aubrey Plaza, Scott Porter, Chris Pratt and Channing Tatum all partake in the festivities. Also, demonstrating that the film has more in common with reality than with its cinematic forebears, the reunion does not take place at an actual high school.
Whereas other reunion movies, such as this year’s paltry American Reunion, revert their characters to caricatures of whatever type they were supposed to be in school, 10 Years recognizes that, though the teenage years will always be a part of a person, most of us continue to grow and change after graduation. The goofy, comic sidekick to the popular kids (Minghella) now has a marriage and a boat. The only white member of the school’s breakdance crew (Geraghty) is now married to a woman (Plaza) who doesn’t even know he can dance. The prom king (Tatum) now has a job so boring that people can’t even seem to remember what it is and the prom queen (Dawson) is attending the reunion with a slightly older man (Livingston) who displays little interest in who she used to be. And while Mackie seems to be playing the exception – the character who has not changed – a brief line of dialogue spoken late in the film betrays that illusion.
Linden exhibits an intentionally loose directorial hand, exerting just enough pressure to maintain a generally forward momentum while allowing room for improvisation and worthwhile tangents. The languid yet exciting tone recalls Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, another movie that takes place in the course of one day and revolves around a momentous high school event. He smartly relies on the sharp comic timing of cast members like Long, Plaza, Pratt and Tatum while giving free reign to the charms of, well, everyone. The script (also by Linden) provides a solid framework and good filmmaking choices were made throughout but make no mistake. It’s the cast that makes this movie worth watching.
In some cases, the players are even necessary to overcome contrived, overwritten and/or undercooked elements. Dealt the most difficult hand are Isaac and Mara as the guy who’s gone on to mid-level celebrity as a singer/songwriter and the only woman at the reunion who’s unfamiliar with his music. Even with unsalvageable lines like, “You’re the only one here who’s talking to me because of who I was and not who I am,” these two performers manage to make the storyline engrossing.
Nostalgia is a cheap emotion and one that’s generally sad to witness. This is true specifically of those who aim to place the past in a box and attempt to return to it as if it can still exist in whole. Again, American Reunion is a lamentable example of this. What 10 Years understands about nostalgia is that it can be used to inform and to transform people for the rest of their lives. The past is not a thing that existed once and then ended. It lives on within us.