Film Review: Home Again

by Carrie Kahn on September 8, 2017

Reese goes home again, but that doesn’t mean you have to    

Lillian (Candice Bergen, l.) and her daughter Alice (Reese Witherspoon) delightedly share breakfast with the three total strangers that Alice has let in her home (from l., Nat Wolff, Jon Rudnitsky, and Pico Alexander).

With Home Again, writer/director Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s debut feature, we see that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The daughter of filmmaker Nancy Meyers (The Intern; It’s Complicated; The Holiday; Something’s Got to Give), Meyers-Shyer here copies her mother’s patented feel-good glossy, Pottery Barn-infused style to create a romantic comedy that is blandly harmless at best and ludicrously insipid at worst. That Meyers herself produced the project is no surprise, as the entire picture feels like Mom just handed her daughter the keys to the family car and admonished her to drive it exactly as Mom would.

Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing; there’s a time and a place for the Meyers brand of softly lit, envy-producing, well-appointed films about rich white women trying to find love and happiness among their throw pillows and Williams-Sonoma al fresco table settings. That time and place is usually when it’s pouring rain and there’s nothing else playing at the multiplex, when you’re home sick scrolling listlessly through Netflix choices, or when you want some soothing chatter on in the background as you do your taxes. So Meyers-Shyer’s film may yet serve a purpose, but for now, the picture certainly isn’t one to make a priority of seeing ASAP at the theater.

27-year-old Harry (Pico Alexander) hits on 40-year-old Alice at a bar, because she’s played by Reese Witherspoon, apparently. 

Oscar winning actress Reese Witherspoon, who perhaps needed a break after the intensity of HBO’s infinitely superior Big Little Lies earlier this year, is on auto-pilot as the recently separated Alice, who returns from New York with her two precocious daughters to her home town of Los Angeles to live in her late film director father’s Architectural Digest cover model of a dream home. Witherspoon seems to be coasting here, emoting heavily via constant wide-open eyes, lip biting, and face scrunching instead of through any sort of meaningful acting. Of course, she seems like Meryl Streep compared to Pico Alexander, who plays her much younger love interest, Harry. Within about 30 seconds of Alexander appearing on screen, the audience can tell immediately that he was cast for his dimpled good looks and by no means for his stellar acting ability. A scene in which he tries to authentically break down in tears at a key moment is absolutely wince-inducing to watch. And although we are told Harry is 27, he looks all of 17, which mightily ups the ick factor when 40-year-old Alice hooks up with him.

Their dalliance is part of a ridiculous plot line that finds Alice meeting Harry, his brother Teddy (Nat Wolff), and their buddy George (Jon Rudnitsky) at a bar and then shortly thereafter inviting them to live in her conveniently available guest house (as struggling filmmakers, the trio of course just happen to get kicked out of their rental minutes before they meet Alice. What luck!). Of the trio, Rudnitsky fares the best as screenwriter George, who at least exhibits a tad more depth and complexity than pretty boy Alexander or blank slate Wolff. As Alice and her daughters bond with the young men, complications ensue when Austen (Michael Sheen), Alice’s ex, arrives from New York to try and patch things up.

The screenplay virtually writes itself from there, with harbingers of scenes to come placed near the beginning of the movie to predictably play out again later (example: Harry stands up Alice because of a meeting with a film producer! Will the guys do the same thing to Alice’s shy and trusting 11-year-old daughter when it comes time to see her school play!? Stay tuned!).

Alice (Reese Witherspoon) does what the audience wished it could do during the advance screening of this movie. 

The one bright spot in this otherwise routine cinematic effort is Candice Bergen, who plays Alice’s mother Lillian, a former star of her late husband’s films. Bergen brings a spirited energy to the proceedings, as if she knows full well she’s signed on to something mediocre, but has decided to gamely make the best of it. She’s in far too few scenes, and she gets off the film’s best line, when she drolly tells Harry upon learning the young men are filmmakers, “Everybody is, doll. We’re in L.A.”

Lake Bell, cast against type, also has a nice turn as an insufferable Los Angeles matron who treats newly-minted interior decorator Alice (because of course she is) more like a servant than a valued and skilled employee. But Bell, too, is on screen all too briefly, and neither her performance nor Bergen’s is enough to warrant recommending the picture.

The whole affair plays like a gauzy romance novel brought to life, and as much as it can sometimes be fun to enter someone else’s fantasy world for a while, the improbability of the plot, the often stilted, eye-rolling dialogue (“You gotta stop blushing; your face is too cute when you blush.”), and the wooden acting keep this picture from being anything but a vapid, easily forgotten trifle. You know you’re in trouble when the picture opens by ripping off another, far better film; the entire opening scene is lifted from last year’s 20th Century Women, with Alice giving us a voice over account of her personal history over old photos. Meyers-Shyer’s attempt falls flat, though, and fails to convey the wry nostalgia that the same technique did so effectively in the Mike Mills film. Let’s just hope that now that she’s driven the car the exact way Mom likes to, Meyers-Shyer will be able to find her own path on the road going forward; a tedious and uninspired first try is forgivable if it paves the way for something better yet to come.

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Home Again opens today at Bay Area theaters.

Carrie Kahn

Moving from the arthouse to the multiplex with grace, ease, and only the occasional eye roll.

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