Take the Frank Capra classic It’s A Wonderful Life and toss in the awkward mother-son attraction from Back to the Future and you’ll have a good idea of what to expect from 17 Again.
Opening in the late 1980s, senior Mike O’Donnell (played as a teenager by Zac Efron) is the basketball star of his Los Angeles high school. Able to swoosh three-pointers with ease, the young athlete is a first-pick for scouts looking to hand out a full college scholarship. Unfortunately, just at the point where he needs to show his stuff in the season’s final game, his girlfriend Scarlett (Allison Miller) reluctantly admits she is pregnant with his child. This news more than takes the bounce out of Mike’s moves and he pledges to leave his dreams behind to be the best father possible.
Moving ahead twenty years, we learn things haven’t gone very well. Working as a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company, Mike (now played by Matthew Perry) continually verbalizes his regrets for not going to college and pursuing his basketball goals. All his complaining has left Scarlett (Leslie Mann) frustrated, tired and wanting a divorce. Crushed by her decision, and desperately wanting to continue seeing his teenaged children, Mike desperately wishes he could do it all over again. Thankfully, he lives in "Movieland" where such dreams can come true.
After a brush with a mysterious janitor at his old high school (that his kids are now attending) the super-shooter suddenly finds himself seventeen again and back in action both on and off the court. Even better, his picked on son and sexually promiscuous daughter don’t recognize their adolescent father, giving him an opportunity to see life from their perspective. Yet Mike’s desire to fix the relationship with his wife is complicated when his 20 years of additional wisdom combined with his Zac Efron-like looks make him an attractive target for his female classmates. This is especially true after he turns down a selection of condoms in sex-ed class and vocalizes his beliefs that sex should be shared only with someone you truly love and perhaps waiting until marriage is best. His problems get even bigger when his sensitive nature begins to solicit the romantic interest of his own daughter.
Messages about abstinence and Mike’s desire to make his marriage work, as a teen and again as an adult, are admirable lessons not found in many movies. However parents may struggle with the film’s other content. This includes some sexual discussions and innuendo, the use of fists to solve conflicts, and a couple of awkward moments between a teen daughter and her (very uncomfortable) teen father. There are also depictions of imitating a police officer and teen drinking, as well as the use of a smattering of sexual terms and profanities.
17 Again certainly reminds us that even if we could go back and try to fix past mistakes, we would likely only make things worse. Considering its focus on spending time with your kids and saving your marriage (coupled with a few good laughs), the points in favor for this flick may still outweigh the penalties.