HOME IS NOT WHERE THE HEART IS
Home Again is a film that exists in a strange utopian bubble. In it, first-time director Hallie Meyers-Shyer channels all the beats and rhythms that her mother (Nancy Meyers) helped popularize in hits like It’s Complicated and The Holiday but it plays more as a pale imitation. The melodrama is minor and light-hearted, the world free of any serious problems that plague the 24-hour news cycle and the characters are designed to represent the various archetypes molded through culturally trained expectations of what they should be. However, like a cover band doing the biggest hit in their catalogue, the younger Meyers’ take on the genre cannot match the same heights established by her more famous mother even if the song is the same on paper.
The real coup for Home Again and the sole reason why this film stands out just a bit from its many counterparts is Reese Witherspoon. In an act of art mirroring real life, Witherspoon plays Alice Kinney – the daughter of an auteur director (in the vein of a Mike Nichols / John Cassavetes) and one of his many muses (Candice Bergen) – much like Meyers-Shyer herself. All things considered, Alice lives a charmed life afforded the luxury of financial freedom to pursue multiple passions (currently freelance interior decorating) and a large estate passed down from her late father. The exception is that she’s recently divorced with two kids in tow which combined with the stresses of working for her (only) client Zooey (Lake Bell) means that it is impossible for her to get back out there. That is until she meets three aspiring filmmakers on her 40th birthday whom she lets stay at her house after they profess their admiration for her father’s films.
Immediately the premise breaks one of the cardinal rules of the romantic comedy genre in that your protagonists should allow for a degree of relatability or at the very least draw sympathy to their cause. None of that is exhibited here nor do their arcs suggest any sort of development in this department either. Witherspoon applies every ounce her endless charm to the role but even she can’t make Alice Kinney relatable to a general audience not born to Hollywood stalwart parents. Sure, on paper she fits the mold of the traditional rom-com protagonist; she is likeable, beautiful and charming but her life lacks any sort of real conflict that would drive the audience to cheer for her. The closest thing to real conflict is when a bag of weed is dropped by one of the boys but that is played off immediately. Everything else that can be remotely considered a challenge for these characters is resolved immediately with no real struggle and even when Alice does “fail” as she does when she loses her only client, it bears no significant consequence to the character whatsoever. There is no real arc for Alice and no real depth for Witherspoon to work with. By the end it feels like she has remained stagnant from where she began with the only real lesson being learned is that at 40, you can still attract much younger men (which come on, if you look like Reese Witherspoon, that’s a given at any age).
The same lack of direction applies to the three young men living with Alice. Composed of writer George (Jon Rudnitsky), actor Teddy (Nat Wolff) and director Harry (Pico Alexander); the boys’ professional pursuits are marred by creative differences between studios and their own artistic vision but much like Alice’s professional problems, these issues are either passed over or resolved on a silver platter. Home Again manufactures plenty of scenarios where growth through conflict could be had but these situations are woefully addressed if at all.
Part of this is due to the sheer amount of narrative threads that Home Again attempts to balance. Between Alice and the boys’ professional ventures, you also have the flirtatious relationship between Alice and Harry (something that comes off more mother-son than actual viable romance), their own individual bonds with Alice’s two daughters and just to top it all off, the return of Alice’s ex-husband (Martin Sheen) to balance. The result is an unfocused film that deviates from thread to thread without any nuance for proper storytelling culminating in a haphazardly constructed bow that attempts to bring all these people together.
Contrast the younger Meyers work on Home Again with that of her mother’s and you will see some similarities along the way. Both have a flair for set design specifically interiors and a filmmaking style that lends itself well to the cadence of the genre but where the younger Meyers could stand to learn a thing or two from the elder is in writing. Crafting a believable story that the audience can relate to is the backbone of romantic comedies. Seeing pieces of ourselves in the characters; knowing that there is a possibility (however small) to find true love is why the genre is a staple of the feel-good category. Home Again struggles with this, creating a fantasy world catered to the 1%. Yes, romantic comedies are made for escape and escapism’s value (especially in the current climate) should not be undersold but in constructing that world fundamental storytelling guidelines should not be thrown to the wayside. Like the three fictional filmmakers she depicts Meyers-Shyer stays true to her story but you can’t help but wonder how Home Again would have fared if she opened up their stories to be inclusive of everyone rather than the few social elite.