The people who made 17 Again don't want to waste time reminding the movie's core fans why they're there. So right away, we see a shirtless Zac Efron on the basketball court, practicing his moves, radiating an innocent musk, his smoothly muscled torso seemingly gleaming with — not sweat — dew. The camera not only loves the 21-year-old actor but laps him; it wants to wring the moisture from his socks and drink it. Few female stars of Hollywood's golden age received the luminous, slow-motion, soft-focus devotion Efron gets here. The idea is to stir the audience, and not just the young girls, to a collective rapturous sigh.
17 Again — the film is a body-swap comedy about a sour guy in his 30s (Matthew Perry) who gets to inhabit his cool teenage self (Efron) — could be the title of the young star's career. As basketball stud and dance master Troy Bolton, he headlined three editions of Disney's High School Musical: two wildly popular TV specials and a movie version that earned $251 million at the world box office. He also co-starred in the hit film Hairspray, a savvier, '60s high school musical.
And though he's now of legal drinking age, Efron is 17 again. Not that it's a stretch for him to play someone four years younger. He still has the mop top, the downy skin and the sensuous sanctity of the boy every mother wants her daughter to bring home — if he weren't dating his dimpled co-star from High School Musical, Vanessa Hudgens. He could be the perfect perpetual adolescent. It's as if everyone wants him to be 17 forever.
Everyone but Efron, that is. By now he's restless with being the pinup boy on Brownies' bedroom walls. He's turned down a remake of Footloose, the '80s high school musical, to free up time for more mature films. "I'm ready for new challenges," Efron told Cindy Pearlman of the Chicago Sun-Times. "I want to act and do serious roles." (He's already made an indie film, Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles, in which he plays a struggling actor who's ... 17.) But how to make the transition? Does he carry the tweens into their teens? Try appealing to an older crowd, as he did with his adroit hosting of Saturday Night Live this month? Decisions, decisions ... that only a dreamboat du jour has to worry about.
Boy to Man to Boy
In 1989, Mike O'Donnell is his high school's star point guard. (It is the persistent delusion of Efron movies that a 5-ft. 9-in. white kid would be coveted by college scouts — for the basketball team, not the drama department.) As the big game begins, Mike learns from his girlfriend Scarlet that she is pregnant. Stunned, he leaves the court, feeling his duty is his destiny. Flash-forward 20 years and the cheers have faded. Mike (Perry) has lost his job; Scarlet (Leslie Mann) has told him she wants a divorce; his teenage kids, son Alex (Sterling Knight) and daughter Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg), have no time for their clueless dad. If he could just go back to his glory years, what would he do to make his adult life better?
The obvious answer — wear a condom — does not lend itself to a redemption movie. So a magical janitor, a kind of hobo Gandalf, appears, and — poof! — Mike is 17 again at his old school, only it's today; he's got the body of a teen god and the crafty mind of a 37-year-old loser. Among his classmates are his two kids, whom he quickly befriends so he can snoop on his wife. Oddly, she and Maggie are both attracted to the newcomer. Cue the comedy complications. What if Maggie wanted to have sex with this dreamy teen — her father? And what if Scarlet got an erotic yen for this 17-year-old — her husband? Scarlet's relation to Mike, once restless wife to depressive husband, is suddenly cougar to boychick.
Filching from the '80s body-switch parables Peggy Sue Got Married and Big in ways that are by turns perplexing, annoying and endearing, 17 Again has lessons in tow: that kids will take fatherly advice only from another teen, that a life full of compromises and defeats is still worth cherishing and that Efron can nail a tearful public declaration of hopeless love with the assurance of a young Tom Hanks. He said he wanted to act, and now he has — pretty well.
An Old-Fashioned Star
No question that Efron is a movie star, but of what era? Adept at comedy and solemnity, synthesizing Michael J. Fox and David Cassidy in their early adorable phases, he is, so far, a movie anachronism — a throwback to when there was a big market for nice. Utterly at ease in the camera's gaze, he's not a preener; he gives the impression of being an O.K. guy who in his spare time is also this teen heartthrob. Which may be a higher form of acting: star acting.
Efron's brand of star acting is a purring geniality that in an older man would make you want to vote for him. Movie stardom is a form of politics in which people vote by buying tickets. But the electorate is fickle. The Efron effect could be evanescent.
It's a truism that a TV star provides comfort — a presence viewers want to invite into their homes each week — while a movie star offers danger, some internal melodrama, a bit of menace promising thrills in the dark. For now, Efron is bridging those worlds, importing his High School Musical tweens to movie houses, where their money is good too. The streak looks to hold with the cannily bigenerational 17 Again. Things will change, because he'll grow older and his current fans will grow up. But no one seems more prepared for that evolution, for his grownup closeup, than Zac Efron.
People Magazine Scans
thanks to glamour_addict for scanning them in.
Also Kenny discussed Zac and Footloose with Latina Magazine:
Int: Your next film is the highly anticipated Footloose, remake—which your friend and High School Musical star Zac Efron recently dropped out of because he doesn’t want to be typecast as someone who only works in the musical genre. Do you agree with his decision?
Kenny Ortega: I’m totally 100 percent behind Zac and the decisions that he makes. There was always the possibility that he wasn’t going to do it. He’s got a career to think about. He’s done four musicals, so he wants to have a broad and ranging career. I’m fine with it. The project will go on and be great!