Watching Home Again is like sitting through five back-to-back episodes of a ’90s sitcom. It’s a bit much to ask audiences to spend their hard-earned money to experience something they could easily digest on the small screen, but that alone shouldn’t be an automatic indictment of this well-meaning, but eventually wrongheaded, rom-com. The problem with director and writer Hallie Myers-Sheyer’s film is that it just blandly presents all of the expected cliches of the genre without anything really new or unique to say. Here’s a film, released in 2017, that is so unaware of any modernization of the genre during the last three decades, that the climax actually hinges on, without any irony or subversion, whether or not the protagonists will be on time to watch one of the kids perform in a school play. Add a mad dash through an airport to tell the love interest how you feel about them, and you hit the stale rom-com bingo.
The sitcom comparisons don’t refer simply to the premise, about a 40-year-old single mother who invites three plucky 20-something boys to live in her guest house (and wouldn’t you know it, the boys teach the mother how to loosen up, and the mother inspires the boys to become more responsible), but to the execution: the flat, dull, evenly-lit cinematography, the muggy performances, the forced wacky misunderstandings, the unearned schmaltz, all the way down to the wispy, detergent commercial score. All are there to force the audience to wish for the good old days when a blowjob was enough to impeach a president.
This time around, the rom-com single mother archetype who’s supposed to come across as depressed and dumpy, yet who somehow always manages to maintain perfect hair, make-up, and fashion sense, is Alice (Reese Witherspoon). She’s moved to her late art house filmmaker father’s home in LA after separating from her workaholic husband (Michael Sheen), and is now trying to get her life back together.
Alice’s humdrum life is turned upside down when she gets drunk on her birthday and hooks up with Harry (Pico Alexander), a hunky and smoldering filmmaker who also happens to be a sensitive artist with drive and vision. This dude’s such a blatant female fantasy fulfillment placeholder that when he offers to fix Alice’s broken cabinet, it’s impossible not think of those novelty Porn for Women books. Anyway, it turns out that Harry and his scrappy “PG-rated Entourage” buddies, George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff), need a place to stay so they can close a deal to film their short-turned-feature dream project.
At first, Alice is of course unsure about taking the boys in, but then her feelings for George, and her children’s burgeoning relationship with the other two boys, makes her gradually appreciate the smaller things in life, which is again disrupted when she has to make a decision between reuniting with her husband or sticking to her new young love. You know exactly where all of this goes.
Expectedly, Myers-Sheyer’s dialogue consists of characters blurting out inner monologues in as much of a dry and straightforward way as possible. It has no wit or charm. Witherspoon and Rudnitsky strive so hard to build some chemistry between their love-struck characters, but there’s nothing there. Myers-Sheyer is the daughter of director Nancy Myers, master of rom-coms for the middle-aged, and also a producer on this project. Yet the daughter didn’t inherit her mother’s usually clever subversion of rom-com tropes or her ability to also exploit those tropes to full effect. We should expect so much more.
Director: Hallie Myers-Sheyer
Writer: Hallie Myers-Sheyer
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Michael Sheen, Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky, Nat Wolff, Candice Bergen
Release Date: September 8, 2017