I’m “biast” (con): not usually a fan of romantic comedies
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Alice Kinney spends the morning of her 40th birthday crying in the bathroom. Of course she does! That’s what women do… and Alice (Reese Witherspoon: Sing, Hot Pursuit) has so much to be sad about. She lives in a big beautiful house in sunny Los Angeles, which once belonged to her now-deceased film-director father, who was super-genius and enormously popular and won Oscars and everything. She doesn’t have to work — see: wealthy dead dad — but she’s embarking on the latest in her long line of rich-white-girl hobbies turned careers anyway: she’s gonna try to be an interior decorator this time. What fun!
Wait: What does she have to cry about again? Well, okay, she’s separated from her husband (Michael Sheen: Passengers, Alice Through the Looking Glass), but she is totally chill with that. Her two young daughters, 6-ish Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) and 11-year-old Isabel (Lola Flanery), are doing pretty okay, even if Izzie keeps parroting Zoloft commercials in her quest for antidepressants. (Kids these days!) In fact, Alice is living so much in a fantasy world that bears absolutely no resemblance to reality that she’s completely comfortable inviting three 20something wannabe filmmaker dudebros she literally just met to come stay in her guest house for a while.
Also: She has a guest house.
Also also: This precious, fatuous movie that is ostensibly all about Alice and her life as a newly single mom is actually gonna put most of its focus on the three young filmmakers and their artistic journey.
Home Again is the sort of movie that steadfastly refuses to set limits on itself. If it’s going to be preposterous, it’s not going to splash around in the kiddie pool: it is going deep-sea diving. It’s not going to just be a rom-com about how it’s actually really great and perfectly normal if a 40something chick like Alice is attracted to and is totes doing the nasty with a much younger man, who also happens to find her incredibly sexy. (I mean… she’s Reese Witherspoon. Her sexiness is not in question. Also: younger men and older women get together all the time. It’s not reality’s fault if Hollywood doesn’t generally like to acknowledge it. There’s nothing unusual about it.) This is going to be a movie about how 27-year-old jerk aspiring Hollywood director Harry (Pico Alexander) — Alice’s new squeeze — will not just move into her guest house with wannabe screenwriter George (Jon Rudnitsky) and wannabe actor Teddy (Nat Wolff: Leap!, The Intern): they will take over her household and her life, cooking random dinners for everyone, babysitting the kids, arranging for thoughtful surprises all around. It’s straight-up creepy and screamingly inappropriate for Alice to let a strange man she does not know take her father’s classic car out for a spin… and it’s even more bizarre that she permits this so that this strange man she does not know can ferry her young daughter to some kiddie appointment. But all these people are so weirdly blasé about accepted human norms that no one sees any problem with this whatsoever.
I repeat: Alice has just met these guys. They Do Not Know Her. She Does Not Know Them. But I guess women are just naturally helpful and nurturing? (She’s doing Harry’s laundry literally hours after they meet. She’s can’t help but mom, even with her new boyfriend.) Urgh. The big “romantic” moment involves Harry fixing a loose door on one of Alice’s kitchen cabinets, which causes her to swoon. It’s ridiculous. It’s like a parody of bad porn, except it’s soft focus and everything fades to black before we get to the sex. The sex here is like the conversation here, people miming having a good time to some gentle classic pop standards. This is a glossy advertisement for human connection and interaction, not those things themselves.
And Home Again doesn’t even do shallow and shiny well! It’s one thing for a movie to showcase the don’t-amount-to-a-hill-of-beans problems of privileged wealthy white people. Nancy Meyers, for instance, has practically created an entire subgenre of movies that look like they take place in a Pottery Barn catalogue. But Home Again isn’t even relatable in that aspirational way of Pottery Barn, or of Diane Keaton moping around a $50,000 kitchen in cashmere. This is more like a cheap magazine shoot — one overly lit, like a bad sitcom — about laid-back Hollywood lifestlyes that even laid-back Hollywood people would scoff at. It’s Nancy Meyers–lite… very very lite. So perhaps it will not come as a shock to learn that this was written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer, making her filmmaking debut. Meyers-Shyer is Meyers’s daughter, and the entirety of her prior “career” in Hollywood consists of a handful of roles — such as “Girl at Lunch Counter” and “Girl in Barn” — in the films of her parents. (Her father is director Charles Shyer, who also makes Pottery Barn movies such as Father of the Bride and Father of the Bride II.) The rich-white-girl-hobby-turned-career nonsense might be the only plausible factor at play here.
Honestly, ladies: You are capable of fixing your own damn kitchen cabinets. It’s not that difficult. And you won’t have to wash some strange dude’s underwear in return.