In 1995, the graduating class of Blair High School in Pasadena, California, voted me Most Likely To Skip the Reunion. They weren’t wrong. I didn’t deny it then; I don’t deny it now. And yet two years later, two of my favourite movies of the year would be two very different takes on the high school reunion. Neither had much resemblance to what I thought it would be like to attend mine. If they did, I might be more interested in going. At first glance, their setting is the only thing they have in common. But both hold a strong connection to what it’s like to be chained to your past, and the particular past that is high school.
On 11 April, Grosse Pointe Blank debuted. It’s the story of Martin Blank (John Cusack), a likeable, popular guy who panicked just before graduation and ran away to join the army without telling anyone. In the years since then, he has become a hitman. He is hired for a job in his hometown the week of his high school reunion and is forced to face his past and how he got to where he is now while also avoiding several people who are out to get him. He is also trying to figure out his feelings for his high school sweetheart, Debi Newberry (Minnie Driver).
On 25 April, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion debuted. It’s the story of Romy White (Mira Sorvino) and Michele Weinberger (Lisa Kudrow), who were not quite as popular as Martin in high school. Romy was chubby and Michele wore a back brace. Ten years later, Romy is a cashier at a Jaguar dealership and Michele is unemployed. Every night, they go to a club together and dance in dresses they designed and made themselves. Heather Mooney (Janeane Garofalo), a former classmate, comes in to pick up her Jag one day and mentions that the class reunion is coming up. Romy decides that she and Michele will reinvent themselves for the occasion.
I wonder, honestly, if Martin ever even would have noticed Romy and Michele. I think they would have noticed him, if nothing else as a connection to Debi, but these movies always seem to assume that everyone in high school cared about everyone else. Michele explicitly says that she believes that everyone in high school made someone else’s life hell, and while it is true for the characters we see, I think there are an awful lot of people in the backgrounds of those movies who just . . . were. Those former foreign exchange students or whoever they were that Michele talks to at one point—how did they make anyone’s life hell?
Weirdly, I think Martin is more tied to high school, for all he’s gone away and seen the world and met interesting people and killed them. He can’t get beyond Debi. We also see his mother; Romy and Michele never talk about family. They are one another’s family, and they bring it with them to Los Angeles. Martin carries his past around in his head in a way that I think he’d deny. But while Romy and Michele seem to remember literally everything about high school, they are also very much people of the moment. They aren’t worried about the past, though they still enjoy talking it over; they aren’t worried about the future, which will take care of itself.
Obviously, I cannot speak to the accuracy of the actual reunion scenes, having never attended one. It’s interesting to me, though, that Romy and Michele’s prom appears to have been in the gym while their reunion is in a hotel, and Martin’s reunion—for a much wealthier school, presumably—is in the gym. (Our prom was in a hotel—I didn’t go to that, either—and so far as I know, the reunions we’ve had thus far have been picnics in parks.) Both of them, though, appear to be a single-evening thing, which tracks with what I know on the subject.
By the time I’d been out of high school for ten years, the patterns of behaviour had changed dramatically. In 1987, the way to keep track of friends from high school was writing letters, and even in 1995, it was easy to lose touch. By 2005, we all had e-mail. My sister’s twenty-fifth reunion was theoretically last year, and it’s become well nigh impossible to lie about who you are now. I mean, one assumes Martin Blank wouldn’t have a Facebook account, and if he did, he’d have to curate it carefully all the time. But these days, you can just Google who invented Post-Its without even leaving the room; Heather Mooney wouldn’t have to spoil the lie.
Of course, I couldn’t afford to travel home for my reunion even if I wanted to; help me out by supporting my Patreon!