Unresolved issues…are they ever settled? For Alice (Reese Witherspoon), the main character in writer/ director Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s debut romantic comedy, “Home Again,” the answer is a “No.”
Just in time for her 40th birthday, Alice and her young daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) have moved from New York to Los Angeles. Alice and some friends meet for dinner and drinks to celebrate her big day. Six months separated from her record producer husband (Michael Sheen), Alice resists the idea of being set-up on a blind date but is flattered by the attention of Harry (Pico Alexander), an aspiring young movie producer.
After excessive rounds of drinks (so many that the restaurant’s liquor license would be up for grabs), Harry and Alice end up in her bed. But, the fun is interrupted once nausea (his) kicks in. Oh, and Harry’s friend George (Jon Rudnitsky) and younger brother Teddy (Nat Wolff), plus one of Alice’s friends, have all passed out in the living room amidst a collection of even more liquor bottles.
The next morning, Alice’s mom, Lillian (Candice Bergen), and Alice’s daughters discover the recovering band of merrymakers. George, an aspiring screenwriter, is awestruck to learn Alice’s father was a writer/director. When the three guys recognize Lillian as the star of her ex-husband’s films, she offers to make them breakfast while Alice takes the girls to school.
Breakfast turns into lunch as Lillian and the guys talk movies (those interactions are implied rather than seen, which is unfortunate since Bergen livens up the few scenes she’s in). The guys need a place to stay. So, Lillian suggests they use Alice’s guest house. Alice initially resists the idea, but ultimately agrees despite her better judgment.
This living arrangement will, of course, lead to complications. All three men appear to have crushes on Alice. While Harry actively pursues her, Alice’s husband keeps calling from New York to say he misses her but isn’t able to leave due to business.
Her involvement with Harry will cause some of Alice’s issues to surface. Up comes anger at her dad’s philandering, but that dynamic gets lost in the plot. The issue that drove her and her husband apart- his dedication to work instead of to their marriage and family- boils up when Harry misses a dinner party due to film negotiations. Despite Harry’s having texted about the dilemma, Alice becomes rather unfairly angry at him. She doesn’t accept much ownership for having chosen to become involved again with someone in the entertainment business. Alice also shows a similar lack of accountability when she lets a prospective business client walk all over her.
Scenes where Meyers-Shyer lets Alice indulge in hypocritical behavior don’t elicit empathy for her heroine. Alice’s drinking (there will be more than just her 40th celebration) never brings out her best side, yet that’s not addressed. Alice also believes women are more thoughtful than men, but her own behavior and that of her rude female client contradict that concept.
For “Home Again,” Meyers-Shyer has been blessed with a strong cast. As an actress, Witherspoon has a very high “likability” factor. But, even that can’t hide her character’s flaws. Sheen, who ultimately does make it to California, delivers a good performance as Alice’s slightly insensitive, one-dimensional husband. His character knows what he wants from the relationship but isn’t as clear on what he should, or could, contribute.
Rudnitsky’s George stands out as the most insightful and responsible of the three moviemakers. Unfortunately, Meyers-Shyer has Alice crush him with her (drunken) description of his being “like a woman.”
The one actor who definitely should have been awarded more screen time is Bergen. The rare moments she’s on screen, the twinkle in her eye indicates how much more this talented comedienne could have contributed. Meyers-Shyer has written Lillian as a woman who has come to terms with her failed marriage and has moved on. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t let her pass on much wisdom to her struggling daughter. And, it would have livened up the proceedings immensely if Lillian could have indulged in a flirtation with one of the guys since they all thought she was “hot” as an actress.
“Home Again” also could have benefited from a more realistic picture of single parenthood. Meyers-Shyer is the daughter of writer/ director Nancy Meyers (“Something’s Gotta Give,” “It’s Complicated”), a fact prominently announced on the ads for “Home Again.” Her mother’s films are known for their witty looks at the lives of white, upper middle class, artistic Americans. With “Home Again,” the apple hasn’t fallen very far from the tree in terms of characters. Alice leads a noticeably privileged life- convenient childcare; beautifully prepared food in huge quantities (Meyers and Meyers-Shyer love to center action around eating); palatial homes in exclusive zip codes with plenty of guest rooms; and, sadly, rare interactions with anyone of color, despite being set in multicultural New York and Los Angeles. As Alice ironically points out, she’s always pursued jobs that are hobbies, a luxury most separate/ single moms don’t have.
But, this is only Meyers-Shyer’s directorial debut. It can be hoped that in future projects she steps a bit further out of her mother’s shadow and away from her comfort zone. More realistic lead characters and greater opportunities for talents such as Bergen would be starts in the right direction.