The loss of actor Matthew Perry was a staggering blow to just about every single one of us. Perry is one of those actors who, at any given moment, could magically become part of our lives, especially if we happen to stumble on a rerun of his mega-hit show Friends. Throughout his career, Perry used that fame to do all sorts of good and everyone has their own memories of his work. Our favorite, in fact, just so happened to be his final movie ever: a mostly forgotten comedic fantasy released in 2009 called 17 Again.
In 17 Again, Perry is Mike O’Donnell, an unhappy 37-year-old man with a wife, two kids, and all the regret in the world. He gets a chance to change that though when he’s transformed (by a mysterious janitor) into his 17-year-old self (now played by Zac Efron). Young Mike first tries to right the wrongs of his life, only to eventually realize he’s got everything he needs. It’s a little cheesy, even more predictable, and not particularly groundbreaking, as it blends ideas we’ve seen in better movies such as Big, Back to the Future, and Mrs. Doubtfire.
And yet, the movie is highly entertaining. The supporting cast, which includes Leslie Mann, Thomas Lennon, and Melora Hardin, adds some strong comedic elements. Efron’s performance is suitably charismatic and the scenes where the younger version of Mike has to interact with his kids (who are now the same age as him) and wife (who is now inappropriately older) add welcome notes of awkwardness. All of which is great, but are each bolstered by Perry’s turn which, despite being mostly a bookend, makes the film soar.
The relatability and vulnerability that Perry brings to Mike are what truly elevates 17 Again. Now, to be fair, he’s not in it that much. The film is more than anything an Efron vehicle because he’s playing Mike for the majority of the movie, and it was 2009 so Hollywood assumed a movie with Zac Efron playing basketball in high school was a sure thing. But Perry’s scenes at the beginning, and especially end, of the movie are simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting. We can see and feel his love, his regret, and ultimately his acceptance. He’s undeniably flawed, but also completely lovable, a throughline that gives the comedic fantasy crucial grounding.
Plus, thinking about the film now almost 15 years since its release, there’s also the added knowledge 17 Again was made during an era when Perry was dealing with serious addiction. You can’t help but think he maybe used some of that pain, that fear, that regret to bring Mike to life. Even if it was in a mostly silly comedy starring a teen heartthrob.
So if you’re looking for something to watch to celebrate Perry’s life, to maybe laugh, and maybe cry, we strongly endorse 17 Again. Come for Perry’s strong, stabilizing performance. Stay for goofy, creepy, high school antics.
Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.