Director: Hallie Meyers-Shyer
Genre: Romance/ Comedy
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Nat Wolff, Jon Rudnitsky, Pico Alexander, Michael Sheen, Candice Bergen.
“Sometimes I wonder if I’m ever gonna make it home again/ It’s so far and out of sight,” sings Carole King on ‘Home Again’, the song that closes out this Reese Witherspoon-starring rom-com. The warm and fuzzy feeling of home is what the film ultimately seeks to evoke, and also what it tries to be about. To be fair, it’s also filled with Norah Jones-esque soft vocal jazz and royalty-free-type ad-friendly music, which says a lot about what kind of film it is – more than a bit too clean, formulaic, and corny, but at the same time sweet and easy-going in a way that raises your spirits. Everything is so glossy to the point where it feels (intentionally or not) unreal – literally, Halloween cinematographer Dean Cundey has manipulatively brightened up every shot to make it uplifting. And somehow, it’s hard not to go along with it.
I would have refrained from mentioning that Hallie Meyers-Shyer, who makes her feature-length debut with Home Again, is indeed the daughter of rom-com legends Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer – comparing them would perhaps be unfair on the director’s part – if it wasn’t for the fact the film is actually produced among others by Nancy Meyers herself, and that it echoes the sentiments of Meyers’ latest film, the utterly loveable The Intern. Knowing about this relationship also sheds new light on the film’s story, which is infused with little details that seem to parallel Meyers-Shyers’ own life, including some funny observations about the filmmaking world that add some more personality to it. The film concerns Alice Kinney (Reese Witherspoon), the daughter of a successful filmmaker who has passed away. She lives in her father’s home in Los Angeles, having recently moved there after breaking up with her husband Austen (Michael Sheen), a music producer staying in New York. Alice’s life is marked by new beginnings: she’s trying to start a new career as an interior designer, it’s her children’s first day of school, and also her birthday. She has two daughters, the 11-year old Isabel (Lola Flanery), who tries to voice her growing and very real anxieties by memorizing the medical definition of depression word for word, and the younger Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield), who is so witty for her age she can tell it comes from a Zoloft commercial.
It’s hard not to compare Reese Witherspoon’s role to her part in the acclaimed mini-series Big Little Lies, though it may be setting the bar too high. Home Again is not nearly as compelling (or really feminist) in its portrayal of the modern struggles of a mother in her forties, but, in keeping with the heartwarming atmosphere of the film, Witherspoon is as much a likable presence as ever, a force that renders the film at least watchable. And she also offers some moments of genuine emotion, a quality that Home Again seems to lack at times. The film doesn’t try to be a portrait of its protagonist as much as it focuses on its bizarre narrative, which, despite being filled with subplots, manages to make us care for Alice even if it’s through a series of clichés.
Home Again has a pretty ridiculous premise, though this doesn’t by any means imply it takes any risks. After a night of partying, Alice somehow agrees to let three aspiring filmmakers much younger than her stay at her guest house. (Persuaded by her mother Lillian, a star in many of her late husband’s films, played with humour by Candice Bergen.) This group consists of Teddy (Nat Wolff, who has appeared in films such as Stuck in Love, The Fault in Our Stars, and yes, The Intern), Hary (Pico Alexander), a hilariously over-flirtatious 27-year-old with a 90s-cool-guy-hairstyle and serious jealousy issues, and George (Saturday Night Live comedian Jon Rudnitsky), a writer who always tries to remain reasonable, and who is so good at being understanding and caring that Alice inevitably (and unfortunately) feels compelled to say he’s “like a woman”. The film doesn’t explore the interesting gender dynamics that this situation would involve, but the way it shows how these lives are suddenly brought together, and how quickly their relationships change, is engaging. It also heavily relies on stereotypes when it comes to these male characters – most of whom have no backstory whatsoever – but it uses these conventions in a self-aware and lighthearted way that suggests how male role models may coexist.
Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s debut does indeed have issues – it’s either too inoffensive or offensively familiar in its portrayal of a privileged family with problems, the dialogue is either funny or unintentionally laughable, and the film is at times too dumb in a happy-go-lucky way. But this is, at the same time, partly what makes it so irresistibly charming: it creates the kind of escapist sugar-coated fantasy that may have been a result of one crazy birthday and stretches it out before reaching its final conclusion, the film’s only moment of realism, made all the more poignantly effective by contrast.