Kernel Rating (out of 5): (2.5 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 97 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. This comedy-drama follows a 40-year-old woman whose life gets complicated when three younger men move into her home and she begins a sexual relationship with one of them. There is some kissing, some implied sex scenes, a male character who is often shirtless, and the discussion of past one-night stands, sexual relationships, and marital infidelity. Also a subplot about the effect of divorce on young children, adult characters often drink beer and wine and there is a brief mention of marijuana use, there is a (mostly comical) fistfight between two men, and some language.
Reese Witherspoon brings her trademark cheeky charm to ‘Home Again,’ but she can’t redeem a film that can’t quite figure out what it’s trying to say about marriage, sex, or family. The cast has phenomenal chemistry, but the narrative doesn’t really work.
By Roxana Hadadi
“Home Again” is like the cinematic equivalent of a really delicious vanilla sundae, the expensive kind you get with gold leaf and other pricey accoutrement, that has been left out to melt. The thing looks beautiful, but it’s still just goop—collapsing upon further inspection. In this analogy, the story is the goop and Reese Witherspoon is the gold leaf. She’s cheeky and charming as always, but the narrative fails her.
The film is from filmmaker Hallie Meyers-Shyer, whose mother, Nancy Meyers, practically has her own subgenre of films about rich white women, their gorgeous kitchens, and their existential malaise, like 2015’s “The Intern,” which starred Anne Hathaway as a frazzled mother, wife, and businesswoman who realized she couldn’t have it all until Robert De Niro emerged as a father figure to guide her throughout life with his years of masculine experience. (I may have some lingering resentment toward that film.)
Meyers-Shyer has picked up quite a bit from her mother’s writing and directing styles, and she mimics a lot of her mother’s cinematic tics here: Every location is sunny and bright; the characters mostly mean well, even as they make mistakes; there is a crispness to the dialogue between certain characters, primarily Witherspoon’s Alice and her mother Lillian, played by a delightful Candice Bergen. But there are the same flaws as Meyers' films, too: so much of female character development is reactionary, fueled by interactions and relationships with men, and there is a level of wealth here that is casually exalted. It’s a very insular world of rich white people and their superficial problems, and if you take a step back, that fantasy can feel quite distasteful.
“Home Again” centers around the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon, of “Sing”), a 40-year-old mother of two young daughters, five months into her separation from record executive husband Austen (Michael Sheen, of “Passengers”), and recently resettled into the gorgeous California home built by her late father, a legendary filmmaker. After a night of celebratory birthday drinking, Alice wakes up with a younger man, the 27-year-old Harry (Pico Alexander), in her bed, and his younger brother Teddy (Nat Wolff, of “Leap!”) and their best friend George (Jon Rudnitsky) passed out in her living room.
Who are these guys? Aspiring filmmakers who are trying to get their black-and-white short film produced into a full-length feature, and when they find out Alice’s family history, they’re smitten—not only with a house full of film artifacts, but also with her. Soon they’re moving into her guest house, hanging out with her daughters, and listening to Lillian’s stories about her acting days. Alice and Harry start a little something, too, to the disappointment of George, who has his own crush on Alice, and the confusion of Austen, who realizes that maybe staying in New York City wasn’t the best choice when his family moved to California.
The frustration with “Home Again” is that it never really answers what Alice wants, and without that information about her character, the narrative often feels on the verge of falling apart. We learn more about her father’s films, Oscar win, and marriages and infidelity in the first five minutes of narration than we ever do about what Alice herself desires: How did she and Austen fall in love? She mentions past hobbies that she tried to turn into careers—what made them fail? What inspires her about interior design? Why wouldn’t she go into film, if she revered her father’s work so much? What does she want from Harry? Does she actually think their relationship could be anything more than sex? And even if she only wants sex, what’s wrong with that?
The film makes sure to point out that men Alice’s age date women Harry’s age all the time, and it’s a double standard that certainly deserves to be destroyed. But outside of her dynamic with Harry, the movie doesn’t seem to care much about really digging into who Alice is, and that’s a squandered opportunity when you have Witherspoon as your star. And it’s useless to try and understand the motivations of the young men—you just have to accept that they would magically take to Alice’s daughters and be polite, enthusiastic house guests because the film fully commits to that idea, without any wiggle room. (An offhand racist comment by Harry and their tolerance of sexist discussions during their meetings with filmmaking executives are still pretty crappy, though.)
Nevertheless, it makes sense that practically every man Alice meets falls in love with her, because Witherspoon has chemistry with everybody. There are moments of solid humor here between her and the young men, and Bergen’s matter-of-fact presence in the face of the boys’ starry-eyed optimism is a nice juxtaposition. The cast isn’t the problem—the issue is how “Home Again” wants to tell a story about women, men, and family but ends up going through the motions instead of bringing anything new to the formula.
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