Updated: Feb 4
Home Again is a romantic comedy starring Reese Witherspoon as Alice Kinney, a 40-year old woman, recently separated from her husband and raising their two young daughters by herself.
As the film begins, Alice, fifth-grader Isabel (Lola Flanery) and little Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield who played young Maureen in last month’s The Glass Castle) have moved from New York to Los Angeles into the home of her deceased father. Meanwhile, Harry (Pico Alexander), George (former Saturday Night Live cast member Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff, star of 2015’s young adult adaptation Paper Towns), three aspiring filmmakers, have also just moved to LA and are desperately looking for someplace to stay while they look for a producer who will help them turn their acclaimed short film into a feature. Alice meets the guys during a drunken night of partying to celebrate her birthday and, very soon, Alice’s mother, Lillian (Candice Bergen), convinces Alice to let the three homeless filmmakers move into her guesthouse. The rest of the film is about how the guys make Alice and her girls happy again, with the focus on a completely unnecessary (and totally unconvincing) possible romance between Alice and Harry.
Reese Witherspoon got off to a great start this year with HBO’s brilliant mini-series Big Little Lies. In that show, she also played a mother of two girls trying to figure out her role in life outside of being a mother. But that is where the similarities end because Big Little Lies was actually about the internal struggles of its characters while Home Again pays lip-service to it before sticking them in a lame-brained plot out of a failed sitcom. The characters act like idiots much of the time and the story is taken far too seriously. Unfortunately, the lame dialogue and forced motivations make the actors look pretty foolish during many scenes (there is one in particular, a fight between one of the guys and Alice’s estranged husband (a wasted Michael Sheen) that is especially embarrassing).
An adult romantic comedy is a hard thing to pull off successfully. The characters need to be sympathetic (so we like them), their problems need to feel real (so we root for them to overcome them and end up together) and it needs to be funny. Home Again (92 minutes without the end credits) fails at all three. Reese Witherspoon tries her best to make her character sympathetic, but she has nothing to play off of because her potential love interests have no charm to them. I did not believe in the issues they were facing because all of their problems seemed to come and go at the whim of the screenplay. And the lack of interest at the character level hurt the comedy since the jokes mainly come out of the characters and their situation.
Home Again is the writing and directing debut of Hallie Meyers-Shyer, the daughter of writer/director/producer’s Nancy Meyers (Something’s Gotta Give and It’s Complicated (she also served as a producer on Home Again)) and Charles Shyer (who teamed with Meyers to write both Steve Martin Father of the Bride films (he also directed the second)). It feels a lot like the kind of film her mother has made a career out of: a smart, successful woman looks to get her life back on track with the help of a man (or men) who desire her (usually while living in an amazing house). But this is a Nancy Meyers movie without the charm that makes her better ones work.
Home Again looks good and has a likable star, but all of that is on the surface. You can see all of that just by watching the trailer. Once the actual movie starts, it is apparent that surface is all there is. It has a decent concept for a romantic comedy, but fails to build on that concept. Once the story gets going, it is easy to predict exactly how every subplot is going to proceed, beat by beat. That is not necessarily a bad thing; there have been plenty of good films that fit into this same formula. But here it all feels like contrivance.
1½ out of 5
Reese Witherspoon as Alice Kinney
Pico Alexander as Harry
Jon Rudnitsky as George
Nat Wolff as Teddy
Michael Sheen as Austen
Lola Flanery as Isabel
Eden Grace Redfield as Rosie
Candice Bergen as Lillian Stewart
Lake Bell as Zoey
Written and Directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer