Nancy Meyers has directed her fair share of romantic comedies since the 1990s — including “The Holiday” and “Something’s Gotta Give.” Meyers has a characteristic lightness to her style and an obsession with kitchens and homes. In “Home Again,” she takes a step back into the producer’s chair for her daughter Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s debut feature.
Reese Witherspoon stars as Alice Kinney, a Los Angeles single mother who lives in the estate of her late father, a world-renowned filmmaker. On the night of her birthday, she goes out drinking with some friends and meets a trio of young men trying to make it big in Hollywood: Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff). All three end up staying the night at her house, and she nearly sleeps with Harry. When her mother, Lillian Stewart (Candice Bergen), shows up the next morning, she convinces Alice to allow them to stay with her while they pitch their project around the city.
The motley crew at the Kinney home grow close over the first few days of their stay. Alice begins a relationship with Harry, despite their mutual agreement not to pursue one. George becomes close with Alice’s 11-year-old daughter, Isabel (Lola Flanery), when he helps her write a school play. He and Teddy begin pursuing outside jobs while the trio’s project is passed around by a number of incompetent Hollywood types (including “Veep”’s Reid Scott as a clear parody of horror wunderkind Jason Blum). Thus, the stage is set for the arrival of Alice’s problematic ex-husband Austen (Michael Sheen) to show up unannounced.
As for the cast, there isn’t a member who sticks out as being particularly bad. Witherspoon is her usual self, which is good enough to keep a film like this somewhat afloat. When on screen, Bergen often steals the show as Alice’s mother, and it is a shame that she didn’t receive more screen time. The three young men are fine and can carry their own, but none of them stick out from their admittedly small crowd. Sheen does his best with the material he’s given, while indie darling Lake Bell, who plays Zoey, relishes in a small role as Alice’s socialite boss.
Even though Meyers-Shyer is her own filmmaker through and through, it is somewhat impossible to discuss her first film outside the context of her mother’s filmography. Meyers-Shyer’s tendencies as a filmmaker are similar to her mother’s, in that both work with a functional aesthetic and explore similar themes surrounding the romantic lives of women.
One major plus of “Home Again” is its runtime of 97 minutes. In a time when most major comedies often stretch the two-hour mark (to their own detriment), some brevity and restraint is more than exciting with the thin material at hand. The film has enough time to flesh out all of the intersecting relationships to various degrees of satisfaction without overstaying its welcome.
However, the film deeply suffers from a lack of message. It begs the question, what exactly is the point of this film’s existence? There was room for some fascinating feminist commentary on the romantic comedy itself, but it seemed oddly content to not engage with these elements — the film is steeped in insane levels of privilege, after all. Instead, Meyers-Shyer relies on genre cliches to create a derivative, if fairly enjoyable, film that will most likely be forgotten in the coming weeks due to just how vanilla and uninteresting it is. Her direction is energetic but perhaps too much so when repeated montage sequences almost become laughable by the film’s end.
As is the case with some other films of its type, such as Meyers’ “The Intern,” “Home Again” is not exactly a good film. However, the experience is so unavoidably pleasant that watching it never really feels like a chore. It’ll make for a solid way to kill an hour and a half when it inevitably plays on HBO four times a day in the coming months. As for now, there are certainly many, many better films to see in theaters, but you could surely do a lot worse if that’s what your heart desires.