In a scene about halfway through Reese Witherspoon‘s new dramedy Home Again, a Hollywood producer Justin Miller (Veeps’ Reid Scott) expresses his desire to break out from being well known for his horror films into new territory.
“There’s three types of film I want to make.” he tells aspiring filmmakers George (SNL’s Jon Rudnitsky), and brothers Harry (A Most Violent Year’s Pico Alexander) & Teddy (The Fault in Our Stars Nat Wolff).
“A female-centric comedy, a found-footage love story, and an awards film.”
It’s been said that the plot of a motion picture can often tell the behind the scenes story of that film and it’s journey to fruition. Home Again is definitely one of those films.
In Home Again, a female-centric comedy, Reese Witherspoon stars as Alice Kinney, who, along with Michael Sheen as Austen, play recently separated parents to two young girls. Following a wild night celebrating a birthday, the three aspiring filmmakers George, Harry and Teddy move in with Alice, who just so happens to be the daughter of a legendary filmmaker.
It is to her deceased father’s Beverly Hills home that Alice has only recently moved back into herself, following her split with Austen, a music executive in New York, and as far as pads for recently “uncoupled” people go, it is one hell of a home.
With a five star guest house at the bottom of the garden, it’s Alice’s mum Lillian (Candice Bergen) who initially invites the three lads to stay, and with luxury linen and a well stocked kitchen, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to live in the family home of a Hollywood legend as the young men go through the Hollywood rituals of finding talent representation and setting up meetings with producers ?
The three friends have been the talk of a recent film festival, where their short film took out a top prize. Now with a film script in the works, they have their hearts set on getting their debut feature film made exactly as they want to make it. Discussing strategies for an upcoming meeting, they comment that “there is no way we are not shooting this in Black and White”. The line gets a good laugh from the audience of film critics I’m seeing the film with, because as anybody who is interested in the business of making films knows, sticking to your guns in an artistic sense, while also catering to the commercial requirements of film distribution is enormously challenging.
Despite being her own debut feature film, Home Again’s writer and director Hallie Meyers-Shyer is in familiar territory with this mostly entertaining work.
This is the kind of “LA Story” made in Hollywood, about Hollywood, as only somebody intimate with the movie business could create. As Hallie Meyers-Shyer‘s explained to The Hollywood Reporter, “her first memory from a film set was at 3 years old, walking down the aisle as a flower girl in the first Father of the Bride movie; behind the camera sat her mom and dad, writer-directors Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers“.
Her parents are the names behind comedies like “Father of the Bride“, “The Parent Trap“. “The Intern” and “Something’s Gotta Give“, and Home Again wants to play in that same sandpit as these big commercial comedies. However, as Meyers-Shyer admits in that article, about making a rom-com these days, “The business has changed so much, it used to be considered more of a commercial genre. It’s an indie genre now.” She attributes the shift to two factors — a string of commercial rom-com duds in the 2010s and a lack of franchise potential: “There’s no real ability to make a prequel and a sequel. It’s kind of a one-off.”
Home Again holds it’s own thanks in part to the likeable chops of Witherspoon, who opens the film in a voiceover explaining how when she was born her director father was on set on a Greek island and the news took several days to reach him. He made an effort to make her feel special every birthday after that.
In present day, she is crying in the sink and a knock on the bathroom door jolts her back from her memories as her daughters Isabel and Rosie are waiting to wish her happy birthday.
It’s their first day at a new school in California and in the car on the way, Isabel explains to her mother that she is suffering symptoms associated with anxiety and depression. Rosie chimes in to explain she has been watching TV commercials for anti-depressants.
Home Again has all the necessary ingredients to make this a watchable if not entirely original film. Just as guys tend to enjoy superhero movies for the fantasy escape they offer, Home Again is a fantasy where a newly separated woman can have it all. Support from a parent to look after the kids while she pursues a new business and a new personal life.
Her home is decorated with impeccable style in the most expensive tastes, and even her groceries look beyond the reach of us mere mortals. And why shouldn’t a woman have it all?!
The film plays with the typical tropes of a younger woman with an older male partner by taking Alice, who has just turned 40, and setting her up with Harry, a “20-something” hearth-throb who “shows her how to live again”.
Meyers-Shyer demonstrates an excellent understanding of how to make comedy work onscreen, and in Witherspoon she has the perfect vessel for generating plenty of laughs.
The three filmmaking friends are the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion who by the end of the film have demonstrated their “Brains, Heart and Nerve”, as they stave off attempts to water down their own film.
Meyers-Shyer is in the enviable position that anyone in her life weighing in on her film is likely to offer invaluable advice, rather than suggestions like “making it more like American Sniper” as happens to the boys.
It is an uneven film that careens from being really enjoyable to quite detestable as these ultra wealthy entitled Hollywood types prance around their designer kitchens with an infinite supply of top shelf goods (every single scene that incorporated entertaining featured a casual bar stocked with a hundreds of bucks worth of booze), not to mentions sets full of comfy and expensive looking cushions, surfboards, trendy artworks, quality furniture and well fitting clothes.
A tribute to consumption if ever there was one, it is easy on the eye, but prods the brain to wonder – how can a newly separated mother of two without a job afford to live like this?
Ensconced inside the Hollywood bubble, Home Again never really feels believable.
But if you are in need of cheesy comfort food on a rainy day, it will do the trick to forget your cares for a 90 minutes. I enjoyed a lot of genuine laughs, and however much it may have annoyed me, it is a hard film to hate on for the sheer perkiness of the whole affair.
Meyers-Shyer has shown enviable skills as a writer and director, and I look forward to any follow up effort that might see her stray into less familiar turf.
3 Stars – “Likeable Rom-Com with Great Cushions”