Nora Ephron’s (Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail) reign as Hollywood’s queen of romantic comedies was overthrown when Nancy Meyers stole the crown with a string of reliable titles such as What Women Want, The Holiday and The Intern, and for the better part of a decade it was rare to see a rom-com without her name slapped on it in one way or another. With the new Reese Witherspoon movie, Home Again, Meyers has stepped aside, making way for a potential heir to the throne… her daughter, Hallie Meyers-Shyer.
Home Again marks Meyers-Shyer’s directorial debut and at the age of 30 it is a mighty impressive one at that. That’s not to say it is a great film by any means – in fact, it is a relatively unremarkable one, wearing its protective pads on its sleeves – but it does play to its target demographic reliably and doesn’t give much cause for harsh criticism.
Witherspoon plays the daughter of a legendary diseased Hollywood director, who has just turned 40 and is at a crossroads in life. Recently separated from her music-producer husband, she lives with her two daughters and struggles to forge an identity of her own. When three ambitious young filmmakers end up at her house after a wild night of partying, she offers them her guesthouse and soon forms a strong bond with them, including a romantic connection with one of them half her age. The young guys make themselves at home and wind up smitten with the entire family, including the two daughters. Enter the ex-husband (Michael Sheen) and the scene is set for a comedy of misunderstandings, misplaced affections and life altering consequences.
It is a formulaic comedy that leaves little to be desired on face value, yet beneath the schmaltzy surface lies a clever twist of convention and an effective layer of character dynamics. Taking cues from Three Men and a Baby (or Little Lady, to be sure), the framework for the three young guys – played by Pico Alexander (War Machine), Nat Wolff (Death Note, Paper Towns) and Jon Rudnitsky (Saturday Night Live) – is well conceived and nicely performed, and their relationship with the two daughters is quite lovely. Wolff and Rudnitsky both deliver wonderful performances, with Rudnitsky giving a particularly touching turn as the soft-hearted writer of the three. And despite Alexander lacking any real charisma, the trio makes for a strong alliance.
Reese Witherspoon is, well… Reese Witherspoon (let’s be honest). There’s nothing new to see here and her performance might as well have been lifted from any one of her numerous rom-coms. Of course, she gives a passable performance, yet one can’t help wonder, would the film have benefited more from a different lead actress? Nevertheless, her presence is reinforced by the reliable addition of Michael Sheen and Candice Bergen to the cast. They both bring an extra level of joy to the story, and give the movie some of its best nuisances.
I suppose it’s all too easy for a film critic to come out swinging against a rom-com that adheres to a formula and walks a safe line, but I personally can’t bring myself to be so harsh. It plays for a specific audience and it delivers what they expect. And for the film to have been written and directed by a 30-year old first timer is quite a feat unto itself. Of course, Meyers-Shyer likely had the guidance of her mother (who also produced) but it is nevertheless an impressive debut. With the backdrop of Hollywood and themes of growing up in the film industry, there is no doubt that Myers-Shyer has placed a lot of personal investment into the story itself, and with that in mind there is an added layer of sincerity.
Home Again won’t be making any top-ten lists for 2017, and it’s a long way from hitting the bottom too. It is simply a middle-of-the-road movie that will hit the spot with some, and miss the mark with others. It’s as likeable as it is forgettable.