Home Again

| December 11, 2017

It’s impossible to know fully why actors choose the roles they do. Whether it be the script, the subject matter or the chance to work with an admired collaborator, there are likely many reasons for an actor to sign onto a specific project. In the case of this year’s listless romantic comedy Home Again, one must ask that question of star Reese Witherspoon. A talented, powerful actor who excels in both comedy and drama, Witherspoon’s presence in the entirely uninspired and unworthy Home Again is perplexing to say the least. While it’s tempting to think that maybe Witherspoon was voluntarily doing a favor for writer/director Hallie Meyers-Shyer (the daughter of the famous Nancy Meyers), the film’s premise (not to mention the resulting product) is so poor that it seems more likely that the producers held a gun to her head or threatened to kidnap her firstborn unless she signed on the dotted line.

In Home Again Witherspoon plays Alice, an interior designer who has recently separated from her boorish husband Austin (a slimy Michael Sheen) and relocated to her late father’s Los Angeles home with her two young daughters. As she attempts to figure out her next step, to go “home again,” life throws her a proverbial curve ball. While celebrating her 40th birthday with a few select friends, Alice meets aspiring filmmakers Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff), three dudes who are so boring its almost stupefying.

After some insanely heavy drinking, Alice ends up spending the night with Harry. One thing leads to another and before long Alice is allowing the trio of wannabe artists to crash in her luxurious guest house as they attempt to break into Hollywood. This odd development proves to not be an isolated event. The decision to have the young filmmakers move in with Alice is simply one of many bizarre plot developments that come to define Home Again, turning the film into something about as close to real life as a marionette dummy is to a flesh-and-blood human being.

The inauthentic nature of Home Again is one of the film’s major problems. Instead of asking real questions about why Alice decides to let three boy-band rejects move into her home, Meyers-Shyer’s script doubles down on contrivance. The characters all inexplicably begin playing house, with George and Teddy immediately taking on cutesy caretaker roles to Alice’s young children.

The budding romance between Alice and Harry also never develops even an iota of credibility. The filmmakers never honestly attempt to understand what this professional designer and busy single mother would see in Pico Alexander’s 27 year old fop. Instead, Meyers-Shyer resigns herself to having the two actors make eyes at each other, say groaners like, “You gotta stop blushing. Your face is too cute when you’re blushing. I can’t take it,” and have a broken cabinet serve as an innuendo for sex.

Home Again‘s narrative is also incredibly torpid. Meyers-Shyer takes an agonizing amount of time developing the story’s central conflict. But even when said conflict inevitably arrives, the film moves no closer to feeling like a recognizable portrait of human life. You see, discord eventually brews between Alice and her house guests, a situation that is complicated when Austin eventually attempts to worm his way back into the family circle and when the professional bond between the filmmaking trio begins to splinter due to fluctuating professional goals. Yet the outcome of these conflicts never feel grounded in anything real, with the way the characters interact and confront one another feeling almost grotesquely disproportionate to the the contextual parameters that Meyers-Shyer’s script has constructed. Two major examples of this is a late-in-the-game fist fight between two characters and an argument that has to do with one character standing up another for a date. Tonally, emotionally and logically, nothing about these scenes work.  They are both not built-up properly and the emotion on display feels almost categorically unearned.

Essentially, on a writing and directing level,  Home Again just doesn’t work. But what about the acting? Many of the performances in Home Again are fine if not particularly memorable. Michael Sheen acquaints himself well enough with his small role as the film’s “antagonist,” but at this point he can probably play a good dickhead in his sleep. Iconic actress Candice Bergen also works well as Alice’s mother Lillian, but she is mostly confined to the margins, her character doing little aside from pulling grandma duty. Less successful are the actors playing the three filmmakers. Not for minute do you believe that these guys are serious artists.

As the film’s star, Reese has the most to do in Home Again, although her arc is never particularly clear. Through an effective prologue mainly comprised of still photography, Meyers-Shyer is able to establish the powerful influence that Alice’s late father, an Oscar-winning filmmaker and professional skirt chaser, had on her life. The writer/director also draws intriguing visual parallels to other important men in Alice’s orbit, with Sheen’s Austin looking quite similar to Alice’s father and Alexander’s Harry looking like a younger version of Austin. The bad behavior of Alice’s father when he was alive is also shown to affect her relationships with these men, riddling her with anxiety that she could potentially follow in her mother’s footsteps and end up with a philandering party animal.

This is potentially weighty thematic material, and it could likely be quite compelling with a more accomplished artist at the helm. Yet Meyers-Shyer is not capable of moving past initial suggestion, leaving her star adrift, alone, incapable of bringing the story, and her performance within that story, to a semi-satisfying resolution.

Ironically, this quality of Home Again is probably the aspect of the film that is closest to real life. Everyone knows that in reality life rarely offers clean arcs or tidy, coherent resolutions to particular problems. But everyone also knows that film is not intended to be real. Instead, it must act as an impersonation of the real, posturing as something that feels like a reflection of life’s rich, chaotic complexity while simultaneously  imposing some semblance of order, structure, thematic through-lines or emotional motifs to the proceedings. Meyers-Shyer’s inauspicious debut is never able to properly strike that balance, doing not only a disservice to her talented actors but rendering Home Again as nothing more than an exercise in disposable frivolity.

Home Again is now available on BluRay.

About the Author:

Adam Mohrbacher is a freelance film critic and writer who currently lives in Denver, CO.
Filed in: Video and DVD

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