Oh Lisa Kudrow, you are a gift – as are you, Mira Sorvino. In 1997, director David Mirkin brought them together for Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, a film about two women determined to go back to their 10-year high school reunion and really show those popular kids how awesome they are, thereby gaining validation and entry into an out-of-reach social sphere. After a recent rewatch, I was struck at how well this film has aged, especially in the age of the carefully-crafted digital façade. Romy and Michele really do prove that self-acceptance and honesty win out over a false narrative of happiness.
The very real hurt associated with the character Romy (Sorvino) is enough to make me want to hug her, buy her a drink, and take her out shopping and clubbing. Romy spent years lusting after golden boy Billy Christianson (Vincent Ventresca), ignored her in favor of cool girlfriend Christy Masters (Julia Campbell). Christy, for her part, unmercifully made fun of Romy and Michele for being quirky (read: having a personality outside of hair ties and Spandex), something that stuck with the sensitive Romy for a decade. Ten years later, Romy is still daydreaming of a handsome, chiseled man that will sweep her off her feet and tell her that she’s beautiful and special. Most telling: Romy feels the need to impress other people – she makes up a story that she and Michele invented Post It Notes so that they can earn the respect and admiration of the people who used to torment them. They want to go back and be something more than what others mocked. The urge is very human: it’s the hope that the people who looked down on you will suddenly see that they were wrong, offer an apology, and treat you the way they were treated for a long time.
But here’s the thing: Christy is lying and projecting a happy narrative, whereas Romy learns to accept the good things in her life rather than compare. Christy proudly proclaims that she and Billy have been married for almost ten years, which, if you do the math, means that someone got knocked up right after high school (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but more on that in a minute). She and her friends are all pregnant, and while she’s smiling when she tells Romy, “I feel very fulfilled,” her eyes are straight up shanking the woman who’s just told her, “You must feel really tied down.” When Romy finally sees Billy in real life, she gets confirmation that Christy lied to make everything look way better than it is: he has lost his rippling six pack, has a drinking problem, works in a job his father-in-law got him, doubts the paternity of Christy’s unborn child, and is actively seeking to cheat on his wife. This is the dreamboat Christy snagged. Meanwhile, after a pep talk from Michele (Kudrow), the women march into the reunion and declare that they lied in order to get treated like human beings. It’s an honest moment that – when coupled with their outfits and out-loud personalities – earns them snaps from classmate Lisa (Elaine Hendrix), who’s now an editor at Vogue magazine. Lisa goes a step further and claps back at Christy in front of everyone, telling the angry pregnant woman, “You keep telling yourself that [you’re happy]” in front of the whole group. It’s a satisfying moment we wish we could have with the people who’ve treated us poorly.
The thing is, in the digital age, the Christys of the world have really flourished, and people can tell who they are. Go on Facebook or Instagram, and you can see the women who treated others poorly displaying glossy photoshoots of newborns or weddings or boyfriends; meanwhile, as the old joke goes, the most popular guy in school is now mowing your lawn. It’s even better if these people are married to each other and share an account (several friends cackle and yell, “Okay, which one cheated?” when they see a shared account. Really, we see you. We know that someone got caught cheating.). Worst yet is the Mommy Mafia some of them form; I myself have had the immeasurable pleasure of knowing the ONLY WOMAN who has ever given birth to one baby and can’t possibly imagine loving another one because it’s SO MAGICAL and she needs to devote EVERY MOMENT to her child and her husband is THE BEST daddy on the planet (I’ll wait a minute for your eyes to unroll. We good? Good. Let’s continue.). Point is, people seek validation – they want to feel like they belong, and that sense of longing can really do a number on someone who is struggling with things like weight, acne, voice changes, height, etc. That feeling dies hard too – often, we’ll try to link up with people to feel like we’re not alone without fully processing that the person criticizing you is trying to sell you something. Honestly, Romy’s assessment of Christy feeling tied down has to sting. Adults out in the world – people in their damn late 30s and early 40s – struggle with the sense of loss of a social life when they have kids, let alone being 18 years old, wanting to party and never having that chance. Having children young is not inherently bad (some people do extraordinarily well, and I give them all the credit in the world), but even they will speak to feeling like they missed out on the experience of being young and carefree. The temptation to compare in Romy and Michele still exists today, with the added difference that currently, we can look at other people through the filter of what they want us to see and feel like they’re superior if we haven’t achieved that yet. It’s the same disease – it’s just mutated a bit.
It’s only human to compare yourself to someone else, and to doubt if you’re in the right spot. The perfect way to break this cycle is to do as Romy and Michele: be yourself. Like who you are, like the life you have, and recognize the freedoms you have. Someone who’s actively trying to make you feel worse often has the most to hide – they’re the person who can’t admit how bad things are on their end. Sometimes, you have to dance to “Time After Time” like the whole class is watching. Just do you.