Unbelievably, '17 Again' Is at the Top of the Netflix Streaming Charts — Again
While it hasn’t been inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry (yet), 17 Again remains surprisingly popular today. The 2009 comedy, about a grown man who is transformed back into his 17-year-old self by a mysterious, magical janitor – who, let’s be honest, is probably Satan – popped up on the Netflix Top 10 this past October, despite the fact that it in no way involves serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, and isn’t a Halloween-y horror movie … at least not technically.
Yeah, there’s a lot of disturbing stuff going on in this movie, even beyond the fact that we’re asked to believe that Zack Efron and Matthew Perry are genetically identical. 17 Again is clearly an homage to several iconic 1980s comedies, including their creepier plotlines – because, as we’ve mentioned before, the entire decade was basically a renaissance for mainstream comedies with inadvertently twisted sexual politics.
Much of 17 Again is basically reverse-Big; instead of an an adult woman entering into a sexual relationship with a twelve-year-old boy who looks like a thirty-two-year-old man thanks to a racist fortune-telling robot (presumably to her extreme psychological detriment) it’s a “high school student” repeatedly hitting on his estranged wife, played by Leslie Mann – who, to be clear, is still an adult, and has no idea that this teen she’s clearly super-into is her formerly schlubby husband.
According to Mann, there was some discussion about toning down the film’s overt grossness by making Efron’s character 18, that way their romantic subplot would be “Okay because he's an adult and I wouldn't go to jail.” But the filmmakers decided against the alteration purely because the title 18 Again! was already taken by a movie in which George Burns swaps bodies with his grandson.
Compounding one’s urge to bathe in Clorox while watching the movie, 17 Again borrows heavily from Back to the Future – specifically the borderline incestuous parts of Back to the Future. While Marty’s mom develops a crush on her future son, here, Zac Efron’s teenage daughter gets the hots for her dad. When he freaks out, she even gives him an easy out, questioning if he’s gay. But instead of taking said out and completely averting a revolting hormonal calamity, Efron’s character, Mike, goes full gay panic, declaring that he’s 100% straight, even though it means further enabling his daughter’s unbridled lust for him. Way to go, Mike.
So why is it that this movie has apparently endured the test of time while other comedies from 2009 have totally fallen by the wayside? It’s not as though Land of the Lost or Ghosts of Girlfriends Past are exactly burning up the streaming charts these days. Well, 17 Again is a mostly amiable comedy with a likable cast; Efron is never not popular, and Perry is obviously beloved by many for his hilarious quips on Friends and has also been in the news a lot recently, making headlines because of his new book, and also for stating that he wishes that Keanu Reeves was dead (a decidedly less hilarious quip).
17 Again also has a broad appeal to multiple demographics; it’s relatable to both younger people who grew up with Zac Efron and older viewers who sympathize with the Perry character, probably because they, too, are bitter middle-aged husks of themselves filled only with impotent regret. And this story is one that our culture insists on re-telling at least once for each generation. After all, the “sad man gets shown that his crappy family life is actually awesome by some angelic stranger” premise dates back to It’s a Wonderful Life, later to be reworked in movies like Mr. Destiny and The Family Man.
And 17 Again is, itself, a seemingly unofficial remake of the 1986 Disney TV movie Young Again, featuring Keanu Reeves in the Efron role – and come to think of it, is that why Matthew Perry inexplicably hates Keanu Reeves? There are a number of distinct similarities between the two stories; a middle-aged guy is magically transformed into a 17-year-old thanks to a supernatural rando.
So he goes back to his former high school and rejoins the basketball team, which still has the same crotchety old coach.
But, presumably, because it’s impossible for any comedy made in the 1980s to not be retroactively horrifying, somehow Young Again is even creepier than 17 Again. How? Well, in this version, the protagonist (also named “Michael”) isn’t married. So when he gets zapped into his younger self, he immediately starts dating another teenager.
Of course, the teenager in question turns out to be the daughter of his now-widowed high school sweetheart, so he starts ignoring her and aggressively coming on to her mom. Luckily he’s wealthy, so he can conceivably afford to chip in for her eventual therapy bills.
But the best example of this story’s longevity and resonance may be the fact that 17 Again was officially remade just recently, in 2020, as a South Korean Netflix melodrama series that people seem to genuinely love. They even made the central romance a little more palatable by adding a year to the character’s age and calling the show 18 Again, George Burns be damned!
And despite the fact that it is inherently more dramatic and spans 16 episodes rather than one 102-minute movie, we still get moments pulled straight out of the movie, such as the scene where our protagonist shows off his basketball skills while taking on the school bully and implying that he has a tiny dick in front of the entire school.
All of which means that we’ll probably never see the end of these types of movies. But for people who saw 17 Again when they were younger, revisiting the movie now is not unlike Mike’s journey; it’s a way of revisiting your nostalgia-filled past … only to have it turn out to be full of borderline sex crimes.
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Thumbnail: New Line Cinema