It’s no surprise, after watching “Home Again,” that debutant director Hallie Meyers-Shyer used her mother’s films as inspiration. After all, “Home Again” is very much in the vein of flossy director Nancy Meyers’ films, such as “It’s Complicated” and “The Intern.” But while it follows the format of those films — wealthy people struggle to navigate career and/or romance, meet a life-changing individual and embark on a self-discovery journey — to a T, its haphazard plotting and weak characters detract from its seemingly foolproof feel-good method.
“Home Again” begins five months after Alice Kinney (Reese Witherspoon), a 40-year-old entrepreneur and daughter of a renowned Hollywood director, separates from her music-producer husband and moves out to Los Angeles start a new life with her two young daughters. Shortly after settling into her home, she goes out for an evening at a bar, where she meets three young, broke, aspiring male filmmakers who end up staying the night at her home.
After Alice connects with the men over her father’s films (oh, so relatable), and notices their affectionate dynamic with her daughters, she decides to let them stay with her as they work on pitching scripts to producers. Eventually, she develops a romantic fling with one of the men, the flirtatious 20-something Harry (Pico Alexander), but she struggles to keep the relationship afloat during after the return of her jilted ex-husband.
Although its premise is constructed in the same veins of wealth and white privilege as the films it aims to emulate, “Home Again” had several opportunities to subvert or utilize rom-com tropes to construct some sort of commentary — on class, female sexuality or, aging. But instead, the film operates entirely within the confines of the genre, forsaking commentary to tell some bland jokes.
However, not only does “Home Again” lack clear stances on its themes, it also lacks a confident narrative — multiple plot developments are introduced but are never resolved. The result is a script that functions as a series of happenings more than a complete, cohesive story.
The jumbled script would have been elevated, in part, if there were fewer characters. Harry and his friends could easily have been a single individual, allowing for the introduction of a far more dynamic and interesting character and relationship. Instead, the film gives the three men basic distinguishing personality traits and has them serve vaguely similar purposes: to work on their film, to support Alice and her children and, in Harry’s case, to serve as Alice’s love interest. They’re forced to divide screen time, which also results in the relationship between Alice and Harry falling flat — the film spends no time developing their connection beyond physical chemistry, but we’re still supposed to believe they have strong feelings for each other.
At the very least, “Home Again” could have relied more on the charisma of its Oscar-winning lead, who rarely has a chance to shine underneath the pile of muddled plot lines and underwritten characters. Although “Home Again” spends little time actually developing her character, in every other scene, the camera lingers on Witherspoon for a few extra seconds, to remind us that, yes, she is in fact the main character. Witherspoon essentially portrays Alice in “Home Again” as a watered-down version of Madeline, the overzealous posh-beachtown-soccer-mom character she plays in HBO’s “Big Little Lies.” But unlike the spectacle of that performance, Witherspoon attempts to convey Alice’s privileged problems as if they’re somehow relatable to her general audience, who probably won’t come from Hollywood royalty.
Which isn’t to say the film is all terrible. “Home Again” has a few funny one-liners, and the performances of the supporting cast are charming, if not affecting. But the film is achingly formulaic and shallow to the point of being tedious. Feel-good films don’t have to be criticized for their optimism, but do we really need more feel-good films about white women’s journeys of self-discovery?
Despite being a sloppy film, “Home Again” is mostly harmless and occasionally enjoyable, but fans of Reese Witherspoon and fans of romantic comedies alike surely deserve better.