As far as I’m concerned, the phenomenon of “hate-watching” was invented for women viewing romantic comedies. I dislike the trappings of romance and the pitiful reduction of characters to clichés that define most rom-coms—yet I still watch at least a few every year. I do so in part because a good one can feel like comfort food: It’s warm and soothes my secretly mushy heart.
Nancy Meyers’s rom-coms, including It’s Complicated and Something’s Gotta Give, are good examples of the genre’s potential. Now, though, her daughter has also gotten into the rom-com business: Home Again, which came out September 8, is written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer. It is her first feature film; Nancy Meyers also co-produced it.
Home Again is about how sometimes we have to re-find home. I love that idea. In my 30s, I’ve already spent some quality time searching for, clinging to, creating, and recreating “home.” Unfortunately, though, the movie implies that home is about the people with whom we make it—a concept often taken for fact in this genre about “soulmates” and finding “The One.”
Alice (Reese Witherspoon), the film’s protagonist, is a 40-year-old woman starting her life over after a divorce. She has two daughters, a floundering career, and a big house. She has recently relocated her family back to Los Angeles, so it’s natural that Alice would lack a community or a sense of home that is more than a place. Yet she happens to own a place that feels like a resort.
Because she’s floundering—but still has the room to “be a patron of the arts”—she allows three young men who are attempting to make it in Hollywood (Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky, and Nat Wolff) to move into her guest house rent-free. This setup for a pretty standard situation comedy ought to lead to heartwarming hilarity.
Alice’s struggle to ground herself seems vaguely superficial and not very much like a crisis. She says she is “alone and terrified,” but the movie doesn’t back up the claim. Alice, after all, has a vast safety net in the form of her mother (Candice Bergen), a house, and an unusually thoughtful estranged husband (played by Michael Sheen). She even has the freedom to unload on her only client (Lake Bell) without consequences while drunk. (Alice, who is frequently told she is handling things well and emotes a sense of “I got this,” actually seems to make a lot of her decisions drunk.)
There are seasons in a life where we all question where or what our home base is. Moving out of our parents’ house for the first time. Leaving college. Roommates. Divorce. Finding ourselves living a different life than we planned. All can be triggers for a sense of homelessness. Home Again attempts to find sympathy and comedy from the similarity between Alice’s season in life and that of the three 20-somethings attempting to establish their first careers. But it doesn’t dig much deeper than making the point that Alice, despite her determination to act her age (and look her age—the movie dresses her in “mom jeans”), can relate to 27-year-olds. Despite its big theme of “home,” it never really makes a point about what “home” means beyond a fizzy montage of good company around a table. Instead of tackling the deep well of pain and redemption found beneath identity questions, the film turns such questions into clichés.