Midway in Home Again, Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s fluff-filled romantic comedy, someone says to make a good movie you need two things: luck and talent. Well, Meyers-Shyer certainly has luck on her side. Her parents are acclaimed writer-directors Nancy Meyers (What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give, The Holiday) and Charles Shyer (Baby Boom, Father of the Bride), and young Hallie grew up on their movie sets. And for her directorial debut, Meyers-Shyer enlisted her mom to co-produce it, and persuaded her dad to serve as the film’s second unit director. Lucky, indeed.
Unfortunately, the rookie helmer and screenwriter doesn’t yet possess her parents’ keen observational skills or wit. While Home Again is competently directed and performed, it plays like a high-gloss Hallmark movie, or a pale imitation of a sophisticated Nancy Meyers rom-com. It’s as if Meyers-Shyer went snooping through her parents’ files and found an early draft of a discarded script and shot it.
As Home Again begins, Alice Kinney (Reese Witherspoon) is crying in front of a bathroom mirror. Why? It’s her 40th birthday. Although she lives in a fabulous Hollywood home complete with a pool and guesthouse, doesn’t really need to work, has two wonderful, doting daughters, and seems to be content with a recent separation from her New York-based husband (Michael Sheen), she’s weeping. It’s an unconvincing moment in a movie filled with implausible occurrences. To celebrate turning the Big 4-0, Alice goes to a bar with some girlfriends and meets three twentysomething filmmakers struggling to make it in La La Land. Soon, everyone is crashing at Alice’s posh bungalow, where she makes out with 27-year-old Harry (Pico Alexander). Alice’s mom (Candice Bergen) pops in the next morning and takes an instant liking to the boyish trio and persuades Alice to let them take up residence in the guesthouse. After all, Alice’s late father was a legendary filmmaker; he would wholeheartedly approve, she says. Soon, they are all one big happy family, with Alice’s daughters looking up to the guys like big brothers. Of course, they don’t know that Harry is mom’s friend with benefits. The sex in Home Again is scrubbed clean and discreet, and completely off-screen, but this sanitized presentation is part of what makes Home Again feel so fake. Of course, complications of the formulaic-type arise, but a happy ending is never in doubt.
Witherspoon, who is in nearly every scene, is always pleasing to watch. She does sweet and adorable better than anyone but, sadly, that’s about all the Oscar winner is called on to do here. Bergen and Sheen are terrific, but underused, as is Lake Bell as a snooty Beverly Hills-type who hires Alice to decorate her daughter’s bedroom and then dumps her. As for Alexander, he’s the weak link. He’s tall and handsome, but pure vanilla. What Alice sees in Harry—-beyond sex—-remains a mystery.
Home Again is purportedly about a woman finding the strength to make a mid-life change and courageously forge ahead. But the movie’s version of that change is pure fantasy. Nothing in Home Again would actually happen. Of course, one reason we go to the movies is to live in a fantasy world for a couple of hours. The film’s target audience, largely female, will likely view it as cute and cuddly, while others will see it as calculated and cringeworthy. Either way, here’s hoping Meyers-Shyers steps out of her parents’ revered shadows for her next film and bravely forges her own singular, filmmaking path.