Here’s a complete surprise: the Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy Home Again, sitting with a sparkling 33% on the Tomatometer, is particularly light on both the romance and comedy. And drama. But it’s big on heart, and it’s good nature bleeds through the screen. This one’s a small-scale, heart-warming winner.
Witherspoon stars as Alice Kinney, a 40-year-old mother of two recently separated from music producer husband Austen (Michael Sheen) who has moved with her kids from New York to her childhood home: the Los Angeles estate of her deceased father, a renowned filmmaker.
The writer-director of the film, by the way, is Hallie Meyers-Shyer, the daughter of filmmakers Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers. The latter made her name in big-budget rom-coms like It’s Complicated and Something’s Gotta Give.
But what surprised me the most about Home Again was that it avoided almost all of the familiar rom-com tropes of films like those. And ultimately, it avoids being a rom-com altogether.
It’s being sold as a generation-gap romance between Witherspoon’s Alice and Harry (Pico Alexander), a twentysomething budding filmmaker who has just moved to L.A. with his two brothers to try to cash in on a successful short film.
Harry has wound up with Alice after an unlikely night of partying, and he and brothers Teddy (Nat Wolff) and George (Jon Rudnitsky) – in need of a place to stay – have become the unlikely tenants of Alice’s guest house after making a good impression with Mom (Candice Bergen).
But the romance angle here is brief and fleeting: there’s the realization early on (at least on Alice’s side) that it will not last. Nor does she find romance with any of the other characters in the film. That includes her husband, who shows up in L.A. intent on getting his family back together.
Instead, Home Again becomes a movie not with protagonists and antagonists but real people who deal with everyday decisions, and sometimes end up hurting each other, but mostly end up helping one another. The bonds of friendship here feel well-developed and real, and simple acts of generosity have genuine impact.
The film even cuts Sheen’s estranged husband a break: he may be smarmy and selfish, but he’s also the father of Alice’s children and yearns to be a part of their lives. It’s a far more thoughtful approach than you expect from a film like this.
Not to say that everything in Home Again is roses: the film’s two big dramatic moments, including the climax, are manufactured clichés, and hinge on characters showing up on time to Important Events. They (and we) deserve better than that.
But helping the film’s good nature shine through is the radiant Witherspoon, who brings the kind of irrepressible warmth to this movie that few others could. She’s well matched by her three young co-stars, but especially Wolff and Rudnitsky; their scenes together, minus the usual romantic tension, offer something out of the ordinary.
A fluffy confection about a 40-year-old mother and her two kids making three unlikely twentysomething friends, Home Again may is not a particularly eventful time at the multiplex. But I couldn’t help but find it entirely pleasant and genuinely endearing, and a nice alternative to the usual genre fare.