'Home Again' Review: Reese Witherspoon Gets the Nancy Meyers(ish) Treatment
By John Boone
Open Road Films
Not that we're under the impression writer-director Nancy Meyers is going anywhere -- though, any announcement about her follow-up to 2015's feverishly charming The Intern would be nice -- but should she ever retire her mantle as the foremost expert on romance wrapped in cashmere, she has found a worthy replacement: Daughter Hallie Meyers-Shyer, the writer and director of Home Again, a sweet and lightly funny and very white rom-com. A true Meyers family film!
(It's worth noting that Meyers is a producer on the film, her first time producing a project she didn't also write or direct.)
Home Again is ostensibly about Alice (Reese Witherspoon), who is on the verge of turning 40, somewhat recently separated from her music producer husband (Michael Sheen) and attempting to start anew in California, having inherited her childhood home from her late father, a famed movie director. Alice has two daughters (the younger of the two is, indeed, adorably precocious), an occasionally meddlesome mother (the great Candice Bergen) and a fledgling freelance interior design business.
The movie is equally -- and, at points, more so -- about three 20-something "Wonder Boys" attempting to make it in Hollywood. There's Harry the director (Pico Alexander, who could easily be mistaken for an Italian movie star of yesteryear), Teddy the actor (Nat Wolff) and George the screenwriter (Saturday Night Live's Jon Rudnitsky). Following a boozy night out celebrating her birthday, Alice invites Harry -- and inadvertently, the other two too -- home with her. The next morning, after a bit of prodding from her mom, Alice eventually invites the guys to stay in her guest house.
Meyers-Shyers's direction hews closer to her mother's style than diverts from it. (A fact she is well aware of.) Like It's Complicated and Something's Gotta Give, Home Again is a rom-com, in that it's romantic, mostly, and that it's not a drama. It's privileged problems in sun-soaked Los Angeles, predominately set within Alice's immaculate Spanish-style villa, a Pottery Barn vision of pastel colors and bay windows. (If you're a diehard fan of Meyersian kitchens, spoiler alert, this one features cream cabinets, blue-tiled backsplash and butcher-block countertops. Divine, though ultimately not another character as in her mom's films.)
At best, the entire setup is fluffy escapism. At worst, Home Again -- and, I guess, you could say Meyers-Shyer -- is out of touch with our current reality. (Again, there are by my count two characters of color in total.) In truth, Meyers-Shyer's reality is different than most -- her father is writer-director Charles Shyer (Father of the Bride) -- so it makes sense why the plot would pivot on Alice's father being a celebrated '70s-era filmmaker. That said, it's hard to imagine many viewers outside of Hollywood would be particularly interested in whether or not the three boys, in one of the movie's climactic scenes, are able to lock down financing to turn their black-and-white short film into a feature.
There is criticism to be made, sure. That tends to be the case for first-time writer-directors. But in the end, Home Again is a nice movie and Witherspoon is, as always, winning, though it's a bit of a downer watching her in domestic mode after Big Little Lies, when all you want to see is her as Madeline Martha Mackenzie again. Alice is no Madeline, though the interior design subplot, which ultimately goes nowhere, does facilitate one drunken bit that is very Madeline. What's most impressive is Witherspoon's ability to generate chemistry with just about everyone around her, making the best moments those that take place in Alice's beautiful home as she navigates this mishmash family she's collected, both the ones she has and the ones she finds along the way.