Writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer is romantic comedy royalty. Her mother, Nancy Meyers, wrote and directed “It’s Complicated,” “Something’s Gotta Give” and “The Holiday,” among others. Before that, Meyers collaborated with her then-husband, “Alfie” director Charles Shyer, on “Baby Boom,” “Private Benjamin” and “Father of the Bride.”
Meyers-Shyer just released her first movie, “Home Again,” and it looks a lot like one of her mom’s – only with less of the good stuff that make Meyers’ movies so rewatchable. The comedy stars Reese Witherspoon as Alice, a 40-year-old, recently separated woman who’s raising her two daughters in Los Angeles. After meeting three young filmmakers at a bar, she ends up letting them crash in her guest cottage, only to sort of fall for one of them.
Good enough, but it’s almost as if Meyers-Shyer picked out the big themes from her mom’s films, plugged them into her own and then forgot about any of the details. To be fair, her mom was a producer on the movie and she was instrumental in its creation – but clearly not enough to make “Home Again” anything more than a cheap knockoff of one of her own rom-coms. Here’s a look at some of the similarities and differences.
What it has: An affluent woman with man problemsAs the movie begins, Alice is five months separated from her husband, Austen (Michael Sheen), who’s a music producer in New York. He’s a bit of a deadbeat but also a charmer, and he’s starting to realize that he let a good one – well, three good ones, if you include his kids – get away. Meanwhile, Alice is also getting wooed by the 27-year-old director Harry (Pico Alexander), who’s staying in the guest house in her backyard – close enough so that he can sneak into her bedroom late at night without the kids noticing. In the vein of “Something’s Gotta Give” and “It’s Complicated,” what we have here is a standard love triangle configuration.
What it’s missing: Standard love triangle tensionConsidering Alice just left her husband and moved her young daughters across the country, everyone seems to be doing remarkably well. Sure, her eldest Isabel (Lola Flanery) likes to quote antidepressant commercials, but no one appears to be developing daddy issues. Austen even calls on Alice’s 40th birthday, and they have a nice cordial conversation. Does that mean the audience wants these two to get back together? Certainly not. He’s obviously too self-centered and work-obsessed to be a good husband.
So if we don’t want her to get together with Austen, then we should be pining for things to work out with Harry, right? Except, that’s a challenge, too. Aside from the fact that the actor looks barely older than a fetus when compared to her, he’s a cheeseball with a jealous streak and a bad habit of not showing up. Maybe the two have amazing conversations, which would explain the attraction, but who could tell? Most of their interactions – including the bulk of their first meeting – are told through montage where the dialogue is drowned out by music.
Compare that to “Something’s Gotta Give,” where Diane Keaton has the choice of a flawed but successful Jack Nicholson, with whom she has great chemistry, or the hot, younger Dr. Keanu Reeves. She may have made the wrong decision (yeah, I said it), but whatever, at least it got the viewer invested in the outcome.
What it has: Good actorsMeyers has a knack for luring talent, whether it’s beloved Oscar winners (Meryl Streep, Keaton, Kate Winslet, Frances McDormand), funny comedians (Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin, Jack Black) or younger up-and-comers (Lindsay Lohan in “The Parent Trap,” Zoe Kazan in “It’s Complicated). And “Home Again” is similarly star-studded, with Witherspoon anchoring a cast that also features Bergen, Lake Bell, Sheen and Nat Wolff.
What it’s missing: Complex, believable charactersThe characters in “Home Again” are basically rough sketches, especially the trio of houseguests – millennials who don’t do any of the actual real-life things that make millennials so annoying. They never interrupt conversations by Snapchatting, take photos of their meals or wear gym clothes to dinner. But they do cook without being asked, buy flowers to brighten up the place and clean up after themselves. Plus, they’d rather play in the backyard with the girls than go out to bars and chase girls. The movie should come with an asterisk: Don’t expect this at home.
What it has: Impeccable interior designMeyers is probably a little sick of how much attention critics pay to her sets. But they really are something: Streep’s kitchen in “It’s Complicated”; Keaton’s view in “Something’s Gotta Give”; the cozy fireplace in Cameron Diaz’s rental in “The Holiday.” Who wouldn’t want to move in?
“Home Again” has its fair share of beautiful interiors. Did we mention this house has a guest cottage? That’s right, plus a backyard big enough for a large yoga class, a bowl piled high with oranges that contrasts just so with the kitchen’s blue tile, the most tasteful kid-made art you’ve ever seen on a refrigerator and the kind of pricey Le Creuset casserole dish that’s the only thing left on any given wedding registry. (You shouldn’t have waited so long.) Also, how is this home so clean with two little kids running around?
What it’s missing: The accomplished self-made woman who can afford said knickknacksHere’s the catch. Alice doesn’t have much of a career. After trying to turn a couple of hobbies into jobs, she’s trying her hand at interior design. As the movie begins, she has her first client. The reason she has this gorgeous Brentwood house is because she inherited it from her father, a famous movie director, and she’s recently redecorated it. With what money? Maybe that was inherited, too. Or maybe her husband makes bank.
Either way, the fact that all of this was handed to her on a platter doesn’t make her more endearing, especially compared to the hard-working heroines in “Baby Boom” and “The Intern.” For those young mothers, life was about more than finding love. It was about juggling family, career and romantic relationships. For most female moviegoers, that’s a lot more relatable.