FILM REVIEW: Reese Witherspoon Ventures Back Into Familiar Habitats In HOME AGAIN
The apple does not fall far from the tree, goes the saying, and in some particular cases purposefully so. Home Again, the new, lithe rom-com starring Reese Witherspoon, is a film produced by renowned chick-flick auteur Nancy Meyers, and written and directed by her own daughter, Hallie. At times a tribute, at times an ugly-duckling remake of mother Meyers’ work, Home Again satisfies the nostalgic urges of true fans but will make others laugh at, and not with, the otherwise fine picture.
Alice Kenney (Witherspoon) is a mother of two on the verge of a divorce from her self-absorbed husband Austen (Michael Sheen). In obvious praise of her mother’s work, Hallie Meyers wrote Alice to be the daughter of a world-famous, Oscar-winning, now-defunct movie director who invokes tones of Fellini and Fosse. But the fame of her father has left Alice not much more than a lofty mansion somewhere in Southern California.
It is in that oh-so deceptively enticing la la land of Hollywood glitz that all others around Alice toil and struggle for fame, while she flutters about pretending to struggle but really not, trying to become a home decorator to the rich and famous (or, in this case, an amusingly bossy Lake Bell). The other thing her later father has left her is a somewhat vainglorious, but nonetheless loving mother, Lillian, played by Candice Bergen.
The setting is clearly the homage part of Home Again, and one can hardly begrudge the young Ms. Meyers for wanting to praise the elder Meyers’ oeuvre. But when the film turns to reinventing or reimagining the genre, it quickly goes off the rails. Out to drink and celebrate her 40th birthday, Alice has one too many and ends up inviting three musketeer brothers back home for an after party. The threesome are, what else, aspiring movie stars, one a writer, one an actor, and one a director.
The main one is played by Nat Wolff (who we’ve seen and heard recently in Death Note and Leap!), and he quickly falls for the nearly-twice his age Alice. That is all fine and well as far as it goes until the following morning when, inexplicably and, frankly, ridiculously, Lillian convinces her daughter to let the three young gentlemen move in to her guest house while they figure things out in Tinseltown. Alice quickly accepts and what ensues is not so much hilarity as much as predictable and wholly unbelievable bonds developing between the three men and the three women of the house—Alice and her eight and twelve year old daughters.
It really must be a world unknown to me—to most, I would wager—in which one just invites three complete young strangers to live with them essentially sight unseen. Is it supposed to be like AirBnb on steroids? And it is not so much that what follows is foreseeable, it is that it seems to exist on a plane in which few if any humans actually reside.
About the only things that are not lily white in Home Again’s world are some of the darker hues Alice or Lake Bell’s character don. Everything from the sky to the skin to the pools seem as if spun from a spool of angelic cotton clouds. Without needing much help or to expend much effort, Alice’s dinner table is always stocked with luscious meals and lavish platters. The three young guys, for their part, do not really struggle to meet hotshot producers, to get outlandish deals, and to score impressive gigs off the bat. There is no actual conflict in Home Again, try as the film may to create one between the ex-husband and the newfound trophy boys, or betwixt the kids themselves. Everything really is just dandy underneath and the destination is visible from the starting line.
The real question is who exactly is the audience for this film? In some of Meyers’ better work, think Something’s Gotta Give or It’s Complicated, she made fantastic films about older women dealing neurotically with what aging entails. But Alice is barely out of her 30s. Is 40 the new 60? If the demographic for the film is meant to be younger women, those who grew up with Amy Schumer or even Kristen Wiig-type humor, will they buy this softer, edgeless approach? Perhaps the movie is meant as indoctrination to that new generation, but it will prove a poor beginning at that.
So why do I give an above average grade, “B-,” to a movie I am so dismissive with criticism about? The simple answer is that, for all its tropes, Home Again, with shades and echoes of Nancy Meyers’ work, is impossible to actively dislike. There are always a half-dozen or so moments that will evoke genuine laughter, and you sort of cannot help but wonder how that other half lives. Ms. Witherspoon is as charming as she has ever been with her America’s sweetheart vibe and her good rapport with Ms. Bergen, with whom she collaborated nary a decade ago in Sweet Home Alabama. The film expertly evokes feelings of attraction for the adorable girls and deftly manipulates your heartstrings. You would really have to be pretty dead inside to not fall just a little bit for the whole ball of kitsch.
In the end, Sweet Home it mostly certainly is not, but devoted fans of this genre of work will undoubtedly feel, yes, home again.
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