25 years after “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” opened in theaters, the comedy starring Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino remains just as relevant as ever.
The film’s main protagonists weren’t at the top of the high school food chain, but they also weren’t quite on the bottom. Romy and Michele were situated somewhere on the outskirts of the popularity hierarchy, and this is what has connected the film to legions of fans over the last two and a half decades — that "je ne sais quoi" of adolescence that almost everyone who has experienced their share of teen angst can relate to.
The film’s origin story begins with the 1987 play “Ladies Room,” which starred a young Kudrow as Michele. Written by Robin Schiff, Romy White and Michele Weinberger were originally written as supporting characters who hung out in the women's bathroom of a bar.
“This was a long time ago. I felt like we hadn’t heard how women talk when men aren’t around, so I wanted to capture that,” Schiff told TODAY about the premise of the play. “Romy and Michele were filler characters who appeared between the scenes with the main characters. I wanted there to be two girls who go to the bar just looking for guys. In the play, they were pretty disgusting. Pretty different than how they wound up being in the movie.”
After reading the play, Disney executives centered in on the duo, envisioning Romy and Michele as a female version of Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar from “Wayne’s World.”
Upgraded to being the movie's leading ladies, Romy and Michele became 28-year-olds best friends who haven't accomplished much in the decade since graduating high school in their new iteration. Facing their 10-year reunion, Romy and Michele come up with a lie to impress their classmates.
Schiff believes two things over everything else got the film made: Kudrow’s celebrity stemming from “Friends,” which started in 1994, and film studios finally beginning to understand the power of women audiences, thanks to the success of cultural juggernauts like “Clueless” and “Titanic,” fueled in part by teenage girls buying tickets.
“Those films had a huge young female audience that would go to the movies again and again. I think that it was a little window where execs cared about the female audience,” Schiff explained. “Usually, studios don’t give a s--- about the female audience, but for that little window, at that particular time, they did.”
Kudrow had a few seasons of “Friends” under her belt when she was approached to do the film, while Sorvino had just appeared in the 1995 Woody Allen film “Mighty Aphrodite,” which earned her an Academy Award nomination (and later a win) for best supporting actress.
The Harvard graduate loved the idea of playing Romy, but her team tried to prevent her from taking the part, thinking it was a "low-brow" follow-up for an Oscar-nominated performance.
"I remember my agents being very cautious about it because they felt it was kind of low-brow comedy. They were like, 'You have an Oscar nomination, we should be really precious about your decisions,'" Sorvino told TODAY.
She didn’t listen.
“I read it on the subway in Manhattan and I laughed out loud as I turned the pages,” Sorvino told TODAY. “It was so funny."
The film’s humor, the opportunity to work with Kudrow, and above all the relatability of the characters is what inspired her to fight back against her team.
"I felt that there was a lot of heart to it and a lot about female friendships that I’d never seen explored anywhere else.Mira Sorvino
“My instincts told me it was special and I related so much to it,” she said. “I related to being the outcast, being not one of the popular kids in high school because that was my high school experience. I felt that there was a lot of heart to it and a lot about female friendships that I’d never seen explored anywhere else. That love between best friends.”
“But then also the fact that they’re two idiots who think they’re smart,” she added. ‘That’s always the source of endless comedy, the hubris of people who are so blustering and confident in themselves when actually they have nothing really to be proud of, but still they're proud.”
If Romy and Michele were the relatable outcasts, then the movie also needed an antithesis of that — someone who seemingly had it all and was at the top of the cafeteria food chain. That’s where Julia Campbell came in. Her character, Christie Masters, lives on as of the most iconic means girls in the history of the teen comedy.
Campbell said that Christie’s cruelty is a contrast to Romy and Michele’s genuine connection, and is meant to underscore how important their friendship is.
“That’s what my job was,” Campbell told TODAY of playing the quintessential popular type. “That’s what she needed to do."
Years after playing Christie Masters, Campbell's teen daughter geeked out after seeing her mom listed as number four on a listicle of movie history's greatest mean girls.
"It's so important for my daughter and her girlfriends to see that having your core, unique group or your 'person' is more important than everything that you think you want," she said. "All that Christie represented — the popular cheerleader, her incredible privilege, how she was so entitled — those people aren't your people."
But despite being so celebrated over the years, Campbell said the part almost wasn’t hers.
“They saw the tapes and said that I wasn’t pretty enough."
Julia Campbell on losing the part of christie masters before winning it back again
Campbell said that after she was given an offer, executives pulled it. “They saw the tapes and said that I wasn’t pretty enough,” she revealed, explaining that she had to re-audition alongside Kudrow and Sorvino to convince them to give her the part.
“25 years ago, you knew that ... you had to have a certain look,” Campbell said. “You had to be good enough as an actor to get into the final callbacks, but then at a certain point it was all down to what you look like. It’s very different today.”
Other actors to fill out the cast were Alan Cumming, Janeane Garofalo, Camyrn Manheim, Vincent Ventresca and a young Justin Theroux, with David Mirkin directing. (In a behind-the-scenes tidbit, Campbell shares that all the women on set were swooning over Theroux, who was just at the beginning of his career.)
The film opened on April 25, 1997. Despite being rated R, "Romy and Michelle" still managed to get the number two spot its opening weekend, raking in $29 million at the box office against a budget of $20 million. (The most expensive thing in the budget were the song rights for Cindy Lauper’s “Time After Time,” which cost $240,000, according to Schiff.)
But over the years, the movie has become a cult classic. The movie's enduring popularity was apparent at the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards earlier this year, when Kudrow and Sorvino reunited on stage, wearing pantsuits that paid homage to their characters' pink and blue get-ups in the movie.
“It ultimately worked,” Sorvino said. “I had my doubts at time, but we had the perfect pink and blue outfits and it was super fun. Who knew pant suits are coming back in now?”
Awards show often try and stage reunions between casts, but something about this seemed actually authentic. From their matching neon looks to the undeniable chemistry that still seems fresh after all these years, the internet sopped up the nostalgia that was being served that night like a biscuit. The bit went viral.
“I think what the world needs now is Romy and Michele to cheer them up."
“The Post-Its was my husband’s idea in the car on the way to the event,” Sorvino explained, referring to a hilarious bit involving the item Romy and Michele lied about inventing in the film. ”I called my publicist who was already there and I was like, ‘Can you find Post-Its backstage somewhere?’ That’s how that happened.”
"I loved it," Campbell said, who was watching at home. "What I might have loved more were the calls and texts and emails that I got all over from friends everywhere. They were like, 'Oh my God. Oh my God!' The enthusiasm was extraordinary. People really do still love this."
After that reunion, in tandem with this year’s 25th anniversary, the buzz around “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” is louder than ever, suggesting a reunion may be in the works.
“It’s surreal, you know what I mean?” Schiff said of the recent hoopla. “Writers are generally not known and your work generally doesn’t survive ... so, for me, to watch that, from characters that I created, is just completely surreal. And then Lisa (Kudrow) was promoting a movie and she was going on all these talk shows, talking about how she wants a sequel, which is fantastic.”
Without going into too much detail, Schiff did reveal the working title for a possible sequel: “Romy and Michele Get Married.”
Sorvino said she has read some of the first ideas for a sequel, and that she — along with Kudrow — are loving the potential for more Romy and Michele.
"Because of this groundswell of support that has come up post the SAG Awards, the enduring love a lot of people have for this duo ... now becomes visible," Sorvino said. "I think perhaps the powers that be that hold the rights were unaware, but it’s kind of undeniable when things get millions and millions of shares and hits overnight, just because we were there together. I feel like we have a real shot at creating something now."
Whether the sequel takes the form of a movie or a television series is yet to be determined, according to Sorvino.
Above all else, Sorvino thinks audiences — and herself — need something that's just funny.
“I think what the world needs now is Romy and Michele to cheer them up,” she said. “The lightness of it, the silliness, but the values of love and being yourself. That hubris. This is such a dark time right now … I just feel like a little bit of levity right now is like ... (a) song for the soul.”