FILM REVIEW – HOME AGAIN. With Reese Witherspoon, Pico Alexander, Michael Sheen, Candice Bergen, Lake Bell. Written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer. Rated PG-13 for some thematic and sexual material. 97 minutes.
Hallie Meyers-Shyer, daughter of director Nancy Meyers (“It’s Complicated,” “The Intern”), makes her writing/directing debut with HOME AGAIN. It’s a smart comedy about a single mother finding herself, but one that avoids a lot of real-life issues by making her the daughter of a deceased film director who has left her a palatial Los Angeles home and, apparently, no concerns about money.
Alice (Reese Witherspoon) arrives in L.A. with her two little girls, having just separated from her music producer husband (Michael Sheen). Going out with some girlfriends for her 40th birthday, they run into three aspiring filmmakers led by Harry (Pico Alexander). After a night of drinking and dancing they end up at Alice’s house, with an awkward encounter between Alice and Harry, not the least of which because he’s only 27.
As it turns out, the three–out in L.A. to pitch their first film–need a place to stay. With a little goading from Alice’s mother (Candice Bergen, who adds a touch of class to every scene she’s in), Alice offers them her guest house. What ensues is that Harry, George (Jon Rudnitsky), and Teddy (Nat Wolff), all fall in love with Alice, but it’s Harry who she ends up taking to bed. All three become involved in her life and that of her girls, and so she has to decide what makes sense for her in moving forward.
The plotting is the film’s weak point, where things often happen because the writer needs them to, not because it makes sense. A fistfight comes out of left field, and a race to keep an appointment because George promised to be at the school where one of the daughters is performing a play she wrote is right out of SitComs 101. No one questions who has been maintaining Alice’s beautiful home while she’s been living in New York, which includes a storehouse of memorabilia from her late father.
Indeed, this is the sort of movie where we learn the young filmmakers want to make their movie in black and white as sign of how “serious” they are, a joke that goes back to at least Christopher Guest’s “The Big Picture” (1989). Myers-Shyer can be forgiven for not knowing that as she was only three years old at the time.
Yet in spite of the contrivances, the characters ring true. Witherspoon, at 41, perfectly balances the dilemma of the modern middle-aged woman who wants to have a full life but won’t accept the nonsense of life in one’s twenties. The May/September relationship between her and Alexander may seem odd until another character points out that the reverse is so common as to be unremarkable. Best of all, Myers-Shyer seems to like her characters. Except for a pointless subplot with Lake Bell as a self-absorbed socialite, there are no villains here. Instead, what we see are people who may not get everything they want, but remain open to new possibilities.
“Home Again” is a promising debut for Myers-Shyer, who might want to take on a collaborator for her next script, but has some warm and comic things to say about adults trying to make sense of their lives. If this film is any indication, she’ll be a talent to watch in the future.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.