Maybe this time you’d study harder for that scholarship. Maybe this time you wouldn’t unceremoniously dump the nice nerd in order to do the teenage rebellion thing, only to realize much too late that you were just another rebel without a cause.
In “17 Again,” Mike O’Donnell (Matthew Perry) was the high school basketball star who dropped out (and gave up his scholarship) to marry his pregnant girlfriend. Now, it’s twenty-something years later, the marriage is on the rocks, and their two teenagers are in high school themselves, with all the accompanying challenges of their own generation. Through a quirky set of circumstances not quite worth rehearsing here, Mike gets another chance to be “17 Again.”
The trouble is, he’s a middle-aged man in a teenager’s body (the teenager played by Zac Efron). He lectures the health class (which his daughter also attends) on the importance of abstinence as the teacher hands out the condoms, proclaiming that it’s unrealistic to expect teenagers to not be sexually active. He does his best to fix the lives of both his kids, discouraging his daughter’s punk boyfriend, and encouraging his son in the face of the school bullies. Mostly, he pines for his old relationship with his own high school flame, his now-estranged wife. This movie could have been played a lot of ways, and true, it’s been done before, but in this version, they go for the sweet-spirited. Mike O’Donnell, the man who spent ‘way too much time dreaming about what might have been, realizes, after he’s trapped in his youthful self, how much he misses what he did have and carelessly neglected.
Well, maybe being 17 is not nearly as great as we remember it. Or, even if we somehow had a chance to do it over, would it be as amazing as we might imagine it? Being more appreciative of the loving relationships around you isn’t a bad moral at all. The trouble is, it’s not the adults who will see this movie, it’s the kids, and it’s not really aimed at them, anyway. Many a teenage girl will revel in staring at Zac Efron for a while, even when he acts goofy. As a teenage heartthrob, Mom and Dad, the kids could do a lot worse.
RONALD P. SALFEN is pastor of Grace Church, Greenville, Texas.