At one moment in “Home Again” (2017) the main character, Alice (Reese Witherspoon), finds herself lamenting her decision to have gotten married. Now 40 and separated, Alice says (I’m taking the quote from the press notes, the emphasis is theirs), “…you make a decision about the rest of your life at twenty five and then fast forward almost fifteen years and that’s still supposed to be a good solid life choice?”
Well… yes. Yes it is, that’s the point. Or, at the very least, it stands as much a chance of being a good decision as one you make at 40 and look back at when you’re 55… or one you make at 50 and look back at when you’re 65. That is to say, people grow and change and get older and sure, maybe you made a bad decision in your life (who hasn’t), but to suggest that 25 isn’t old enough to decide to be married or to make big life decisions is ludicrous. It is also just one of the many off-putting elements of writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s movie.
Unquestionably, as we learn in the film, Alice grew older and changed in ways that no longer made her compatible with her husband, Austen (Michael Sheen), and when we find her at the start of “Home Again,” Alice has just recently moved, with her two kids, back to Los Angeles from New York, where she had lived with Austen. Alice is in her not-recently-deceased father’s house and the opening of the movie even gives us an introduction to this once legendary titan of the movie industry and his relationship with a young Alice.
Similarly to Alice’s later statement infantilizing people in their 20s, this opening is perplexing. It offers the sense that Alice’s father looms large over the film, that the movie is in some way her figuring out how to live without him (not that she hasn’t been doing that). Really though, the movie is about her struggling to find her footing in the world on a professional and personal level (her profession has nothing to do with film specifically or even the entertainment industry). There might be a case to be made that Alice, at 40, is still dealing with some “daddy issues” (a term I don’t like), but that cuts her down in a way that feels a whole lot like implying that a 25 year old is far too young to make life decisions.
As may be clear, “Home Again” is a hodge-podge of ideas thrown together to form a movie, but which, when picked apart, make little sense. I cannot tell you why Alice feels like it may be a good idea to invite three twentysomething aspiring filmmakers—Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky), and Teddy (Nat Wolff)—to live in her guest house after almost drunkenly sleeping with Harry, but she does. This, perhaps, goes back to the notion that she has picked at the scab of the loss of her father by living in his old house, but it is still a colossally terrible decision the film only provides the scantest lip-service discussing.
This is a movie that floats by, skimming the surface of issues that could be serious, but never dealing with them on such a level. It is a romantic comedy where the romance is between Alice and… Harry or George or Austen or maybe someone else.
So maybe “Home Again” isn’t actually a romantic comedy: Harry is smarmy, George wouldn’t ever encroach on Alice since Harry made his interest in her known, and Austen is never ever pitched as the correct choice. By the same token, none of it is terribly funny.
It is Candice Bergen, who plays Alice’s mother, who shines brightest in the film, always having either an amusing line or perhaps even a sage bit of wisdom. She appears too little in the film, however, to make up for its shortcomings.
Witherspoon, as she has been for decades, is charming and engaging. She again proves herself capable of elevating a movie with her performance, but even that ability is not enough in this instance. This is a movie that doesn’t go anywhere interesting and doesn’t make the trip to that non-place worth taking.
“Home Again” does indeed offer up a number of enjoyable moments—a number of fun sequences—but they are strung together by a story which never feels complete and characters who are unlikable, inexplicable, or both. One does get the sense that it wants to say something worthwhile and interesting and deep, but it just isn’t sure what that might be or how to express the sentiment appropriately.
Perhaps it just needs another decade-and-a-half to work it out.
photo credit: Open Road Films