Hallie Meyers-Shyer was destined to make romantic comedies. As the daughter of the genre-definer Nancy Meyers, she grew up on the sets of films like Father of the Bride, What Women Want and Something’s Got To Give. Now, Meyers-Shyer makes her writing/directing debut with Home Again, a charming Reese Witherspoon vehicle about a 40-year-old single mom who takes on an unconventional arrangement with a trio of talented twenty-something men.
Settle your lions. We’re not talking Y Tu Mama Tambien territory here.
Newly separated and recently relocated back to Los Angeles, Alice (Witherspoon) is overwhelmed by starting over. While her young daughter struggles with self-esteem, she’s trying to find her footing in a new career, while dipping a toe back into dating. One wild night out lands 27-year-old Harry (Pico Alexander) a handsome aspiring filmmaker in her bed, and his actor brother Teddy (Nat Wolff) and screenwriter bestie George (Jon Rudnitsky) on her couch. Once this ambitious but broke filmmaking trifecta impresses Alice’s mom (Candice Bergen as a once revered ingenue), it’s decided they’ll stay in the guest house while they they hammer out financing for their first feature.
Far from the start of some seedy Playboy letter, this proves the beginning of a beautiful friendship, as Teddy and George quickly bond with Alice’s daughters, filling in for their distracted dad (Michael Sheen), a music exec who’s lingering in New York. Between meetings with a fast-talking producer (Veep’s Reid Scott), Harry smoothly woos Alice. Which urges her ex to reappear and metaphorically mark his territory by feigning an interest in fatherhood, and swaggering his dadbod about in sweatpants. (Doughy, sweatsuit-sporting Sheen is at once amusing and alluring. The dude has a gift.)
Like her mother’s movies, Meyers-Shyer’s Home Again offers blithe humor, beautiful people, and a heart-warming happy ending. Basically, it’s a solid mom movie, with jokes that are funny but never shocking, and a story that is playful but never profane. Meyers-Shyer flips the script a bit by having an older woman romance a younger man. Better yet, Home Again never scolds Alice for this fling, even while recognizing Harry is too immature to be the partner she craves. But rather than forcing her into settling either with her old lover or her new one, this modern rom-com offers a satisfying third option.
While brightly charming, Home Again is a wee bit wonky. For one, the film begins with a bizarrely long voiceover about Alice’s famous filmmaker father, who takes up a weird amount of screen time considering he’s dead before the plot starts. From there, some major moments land with a thud, like a big fight between Harry and Alice over a missed dinner date (that doesn’t seem nearly as damnable as she insists). And our heroine’s one chance to clap back at a cruel client (an underused Lake Bell) comes off as forced and toothless instead of righteous and raucous. But the biggest blunder in this otherwise wonderful comedy is its bad fashion.
We talked about this before with the abysmal Layover. Comedies made for women tend to feature everywomen in enviable attire. The kind of sweater sets and casual blazers that sigh with effortless elegance. Draping her frazzled but fabulous leading ladies in pristine white wardrobes became part of Nancy Meyer’s iconography between The Holiday, Something’s Got To Give, and It’s Complicated. But her daughter’s missed a sartorial step, dressing Witherspoon in uninspired blouses and regrettable mom jeans that make the petite star look paunchy. Only when Alice was stepping out for her birthday or an important dinner did she wear suitably stylish looks. But by and large the fashion fantasy is woefully forgotten.
Still, these are minor setbacks for a movie that’s overall an utter delight. Witherspoon swoons, and we follow, falling fast for the too-handsome Harry. Bergen brings sass as the nosy mother, while Wolff offers warmth as Harry’s happy-go-lucky brother. Sheen is superbly slimy yet seductive, succinctly explaining how Alice put up with her undependable husband for so long. Lola Flanery—with silver/blue eyes and a heartbreaking vulnerability—steals hearts as Alice’s anxious eldest daughter, while Eden Grace Redfield is perfectly adorable as the eye-rolling little sister. But the surprising scene-stealer of Home Again is Jon Rudnitsky, who harbors a stealthy hotness.
While Harry is the charmer and Teddy is—um—there too, George proves the caring sage in the lives of nearly every character, but in a way that feels open-hearted and compassionate, not pretentious or judgmental. Rudnitsky is perfectly cast for the part. The comedian, who spent a season on Saturday Night Live, lands not only panic-streaked jokes like, “I’m not in love with her, okay. I just love a lot of things about her, like her face and her personality!” He also grounds sentimental moments of concern, encouragement, and longing with an affable earnestness. Even as Harry brazenly flirts with his shirt off, my eye kept drifting to the clever guy with the crooked grin, emotional intelligence, and manic energy.
All in all, Home Again reveals Meyers-Shyer to be a promising heiress to her mother’s legacy. But more surprisingly, it could be the launchpad for the swoon-worthy Rudnitsky, a funny guy who’s got something uniquely sexy to him. Here’s hoping we see more from both of them.