With “Home Again,” we have a classic case of a Comfort Food Movie — a light and breezy bit of escapist fare set in a bubble of upper-middle-class privilege in which divorce and childhood anxieties and career crises are dealt with efficiently and neatly, usually with an abundance of candles flickering in the background.
Oh, and the comfort food is literally leftover sushi from Nobu; massive breakfasts that would put the brunch menu at the Four Seasons to shame, and a dish of homemade lasagna conveniently left in the refrigerator in case anyone needs a forkful of late-night heaven.
Let’s put it this way: When characters are seen schlepping bags from Bed, Bath and Beyond at one point, that’s a sign they’re taking a step backward.
Reese Witherspoon, as delightful and winning as ever, plays Alice, a recently separated mother of two girls.
In an opening voiceover that plays over a montage of black-and-white photos and home movie-type clips, Alice tells us she was born in Los Angeles in 1977. Alice’s father was a gifted, globe-trotting, financially successful, award-winning film director who married and divorced a number of his leading ladies, including Alice’s mother (Candice Bergen).
No offense, Alice, but the story of your father’s life and times sounds like much messier and most likely more interesting fodder for a feature film than the story of Alice.
Just shy of turning 40, Alice has moved from New York to Los Angeles with her two daughters: Isabel (Lola Flannery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield). The girls, particularly young Rosie, spout one-liners in a way that announces, “We are CHILD ACTORS, AREN’T WE ADORABLE!”
Alice has separated from her husband Austen (Michael Sheen), a semi-pompous, sweater-clad, big-time music executive who has put career ahead of family. Plus he’s British, so we know he’s a bit of a cad!
Alice and her daughters move into the multi-million-dollar home in which Alice grew up. What a place. I mean, the GUEST HOUSE on the property would go for a million bucks. So yeah, even though heartache is heartache in any tax bracket, I’m thinking the average single mom watching this movie isn’t going to relate to Alice on every single level.
Now let’s meet three of the nicest young men ever to make the big move to L.A. in hopes of hitting it big in the movie business. We’re told they’re from New York, but with the hair and the teeth and the clean gym shoes and the politeness, they look more like a boy band from Utah than a writer-director-actor trio whose short film was a festival hit.
Pico Alexander, moving about with practiced casualness and flashing a practiced smile like an actor in a cologne commercial, plays Harry, an aspiring director. Jon Rudnitsky is George, Harry’s best friend and the writer of their short film. And Nat Wolff is Teddy, Harry’s younger brother, who starred in the short.
I kept hoping one of these guys would say something like, “Hey! Two brothers and a lifelong friend make the move from New York to L.A. to make it in the movie business and we’re all living together! This is sort of like ‘Entourage,’ but nicer!”
Before you can say “plot contrivance,” Alice’s mother invites the boys to spend a few weeks in Alice’s guest house as they try to secure financing for the feature version of their short film.
Within days, Harry the preening director gets sexually involved with Alice. Meanwhile, George bonds with Isabel to the point where she pleads with him to be in the wings on the night of the big school play, or she’ll freeze from anxiety. All three are staying in the guesthouse — but it’s pretty much a come-and-go-as-you-please arrangement when it comes to hanging out in the main house as well.
Geez, I hope someone at least did a background check on these polite young men.
Problems crop up with all the urgency and peril of speed bumps in Beverly Hills. Things get a little messy when the romance between Alice and Harry stalls, and when the guys must decide whether to compromise their artistic vision, and when Austen makes the inevitable surprise appearance one night, filled with remorse (and a lot of questions about the three model-looking guys living on the same property with his wife and daughters).
But never too messy. In their toughest quandaries, these people are living relatively charmed lives. (I loved the moment when Harry gets so mad at one of his buddies he kicks over a tiny trash bin, and the camera lingers on the spilled crumpled papers and other debris. Harry! You madman!)
“Home Again” was written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer, daughter of Nancy Meyers (“Something’s Gotta Give,” “It’s Complicated”) and Charles Shyer (“Baby Boom,” “Father of the Bride.”) Before Hallie’s parents were divorced, they co-wrote films such as “Private Benjamin” and the Hollywood divorce comedy “Irreconcilable Differences.”
It’s probably not a stretch to say Meyers-Shyer drew on some of her own experiences to create this movie. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and to be sure, “Home Again” has a certain charm and polish. It’s hard not to like people who are so … likable.
But it’s also hard not to feel a constant sense of disconnect from these characters and their so-called “crises.” When wannabe filmmakers are crowing about how nice the sheets feel in the rent-free guesthouse owned by the daughter of a famous director, the struggle ain’t real.
Open Road presents a film written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer. Rated PG-13 (for some thematic and sexual material). Running time: 97 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.