Have you ever been to a high school play? Those kids and their director work on it for a long time and they try really hard, but no matter what they do, no high school play is going to compete for a Tony Award – or have Hollywood studios clamoring to make the play into a movie with The Original Cast. If you’re in the audience, you may enjoy some moments of the play, but you’ll often get distracted by what’s wrong with it. You’ll surely notice some of the actors are more talented than others. There will probably be a really pretty girl who seems to be in a lot of plays and may even win some awards and she’ll be acting opposite a slightly older guy with fake gray in his hair, but they’ll be acting alongside guys and girls who don’t quite manage to get genuine emotion into their performances. And then there’s the story. Whether the script is good or not, in the hands of a bunch of high school students and a director, who is probably fairly young and may be just starting out, the play’s action comes off as unrealistic and may make you roll your eyes a few times or even laugh at the production (not laugh with it – laugh AT it). Well, you may have a similar set of experiences watching the rom-com “Home Again” (PG-13, 1:37).
Alice Kinney (Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon) has come home. (She’s already there when the movie begins, with no drama leading up to the actual homecoming as the movie’s title seems to be implying.) She has moved from New York City, back to L.A. into the home of her late film director father and back in close contact with her former actress mother, Lillian Stewart (Golden Globe and Emmy winner and Oscar nominee Candice Bergen). Alice has brought her two daughters, insecure young teen Isabel (Lola Flanery) and the precocious little Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield), but Alice has left behind her music manager husband, Austen (Golden Globe nominee Michael Sheen). She considers herself separated from Austen and has decided to start another new career where she grew up. She freely admits that she was bad at photography and her other previous ventures, but now she thinks she can be an interior designer. She isn’t hurting for money, but trying a new profession is part of trying to figure out her life.
Alice goes out with her old friends to celebrate her 40th birthday and makes some new friends – some very young new friends who become very good friends. Alice’s birthday celebration merges with the night out of three aspiring filmmakers who are celebrating getting a meeting with a producer who is interested in making their acclaimed short film into a feature. This trio of 20-somethings includes the tall, suave and handsome Harry (Pico Alexander), who is the director (and the group’s leader), the hard-working screenwriter George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Harry’s sensitive younger brother, Teddy (Nat Wolff), the actor. The party ends up back at Alice’s where everyone passes out. The next morning, Lillian shows up with the girls after spending the night together, the guys are star struck and everyone bonds over breakfast. Lillian finds out that the guys just lost their apartment and suggests that Alice let them stay in her guesthouse. She’s hesitant, but agrees. Before long, Alice strikes up a romance with Harry, George mentors Isabel in her school drama activities and Austen shows that he’s not so sure his marriage to Alice is really over.
“Home Again” is a clichéd, unrealistic fantasy. Everything simply happens too easily for these characters and the plot resolutions that eventually arrive are not well-earned, dramatically speaking. Not only does the script indulge about every rom-com cliché in movie history, but it has the actors do and say things that just don’t ring true, making it feel more like a fantasy film than a romantic comedy. Writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer (daughter of successful filmmaker Nancy Meyers) can be forgiven to an extent, this being her first film as writer or director, but having an Oscar winner say lines like, “I know this, because I know this,” is simply unworthy of a major motion picture. Besides, the experienced cast members should’ve known better, while the younger cast should’ve done better (or been cast better). Most of the performances lack emotional depth and most of the relationships portrayed lack cinematic chemistry.
On the positive side, this film has a bland sweetness about it, there are moments of muted joy and the set-up is fairly creative, but the setting isn’t relatable to most Movie Fans and it’s hard to imagine anyone considering this a quality film. As for Meyers-Shyer, she was still in her 20s when she wrote and shot this movie. Hopefully, her follow-up efforts will show some professional growth. If not, I’m sure there’s a high school somewhere that could use a drama director. As for Movie Fans who go to the trouble to go out and see this movie, afterwards, you’ll be happy just to be Home Again. “D+”