Matthew Perry's Most Underrated Movie is the Perfect Showcase for His Talents
This 2009 movie combines Back to the Future and Big to tell a body-swap movie unlike any other.
Matthew Perry was a pillar of television. But beside his beloved long-running role as Chandler Bing in Friends, his other TV work goes unfortunately overlooked, like his fresh take on The Odd Couple with Thomas Lennon or his walk-and-talk skills on Aaron Sorkin’s forgotten masterpiece Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
But even more overlooked is Perry’s work in movies, especially as a romantic lead. There’s no better exhibition of his sarcastic edge and honest core than this 2009 movie now streaming on Prime Video: even though his role may be brief, it affects every second of the runtime.
17 Again is a classic “magic makes the jaded parent learn a lesson” movie, alongside movies like Liar Liar, Freaky Friday, and Evan Almighty, but it has a very specific twist. Mike O’Donnell (Perry) is a corporate salaryman who married his high school sweetheart instead of going for a basketball scholarship, and now his relationship, and life, is falling apart. But a run-in with a “spirit guide” gives him a second chance... by transforming him back into his 17-year-old self (Zac Efron.)
17 Again was a rebound project for both of its leads: Perry was fresh off a slew of made-for-TV and straight-to-DVD movies, so a more mainstream title was right up his alley. The other lead, Zac Efron, had just wrapped up his role as high school basketball golden boy Troy Bolton in the High School Musical, making high school basketball golden boy Mike the perfect next step.
As “Mark Gold,” the “son” of Mike’s nerdy high school friend Ned (Thomas Lennon, playing a roommate at odds long before The Odd Couple), young Mike has to watch his soon-to-be-ex-wife (Leslie Mann) as she grows and flourishes, knowing how much he took her for granted. But in order to get close to his wife, he first has to get close to his kids.
Like other “generation-skipping” movies like Big and Back to the Future, there’s some squicky dynamics between young Mike and his kids Alex (Sterling Knight) and Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg.) This leads to hilarious hijinks like Mike loudly supporting abstinence while in sex-ed with Maggie, and even when she pulls a Lorraine McFly and pursues him, the script handles it about as well as it possibly could be handled.
Though Matthew Perry may only appear as Mike at the very beginning and tail-end of the movie, his performance has ripples throughout. Efron doesn’t do a Chandler Bing impression (“Could I BE anymore paternal?”), he instead adopts the deadpan, almost morose delivery of a man who doesn’t know what he has until it’s gone.
17 Again could have easily veered into “divorced dad media,” but thankfully it has one more secret weapon: broad teen comedy. Young Mike deals with bullies, old coaches, and his daughter’s terrible boyfriend; he even throws a party that’s kept a secret from his dad. And that’s not all: this movie holds the dubious honor of “best lightsaber duel in a movie that isn’t related to Star Wars at all,” and that alone is reason to watch.
This movie is a microcosm of what made Matthew Perry great: it’s stoic without being cynical, heartfelt without being corny, and well aware of its own identity and brand. While old reruns of Friends may be his most memorable work, his movie star power shouldn’t go ignored.