Reese Witherspoon is back in Home Again to remind audiences that she may have left romantic comedies for a short while to do prestige projects, but she will never be gone for long. The reminder is resoundingly clear, and Witherspoon’s return to the rom-com is as familiar as it is refreshing as she collaborates with a daughter of Hollywood, writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer. Daughter to filmmakers Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer (The Parent Trap, Father of the Bride), she uses direct aspects from her complicated life growing up in the thick of Hollywood to set the drama for her tale, and create a layered, troubled, and vibrant 40-year-old single mother character for Witherspoon.
Home Again follows Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a woman recently separated from her music producer husband in New York (Michael Sheen) who has returned to her childhood home in Los Angeles for a new start with her two daughters. On the other side of town, three young men are doing the Hollywood struggle after their short film picked up speed at Sundance. Now wanting to turn it into a feature, the men canvas town for funding while they themselves are out of money and on the street. A chance encounter at a bar with Alice on her birthday brings the two groups together and after a drunken night that is brought back to Alice’s home, the men find a new place to stay — with the nudging help from Alice’s former actress mother (played by an unexpected, but ever the comedically-timed Candice Bergen).
The ensemble in Home Again is spectacularly fun. Although a pile of white marshmallow style casting, typical of any Meyers-Shyer legacy film, each character and actor is full of life, complementing the buoyant tone of the film. The three young men are played by newcomer and scene stealer Pico Alexander as Harry, the trio’s director-producer vying for Alice’s heart; SNL’s charming export Jon Rudnitsky as George, the brainy film-obsessed writer; and one of Young Hollywood’s finest, Nat Wolff as their film’s rising star (his casting in this could be considered almost too meta). Also in the fold is the hilarious Lake Bell playing a neurotic Hollywood client of Alice’s growing interior design business. The ensemble is both a strong support for Witherspoon’s lead and vital entities on their own, making for a romantic comedy with sturdy legs.
Witherspoon’s character on her own is one for which Hollywood and future classically told romantic comedies should take note. Alice is a damaged single mother, which sounds like a familiar and insidious trope on the surface, but Meyers-Shyer turns out this character to her fullest realization. On the brink of divorce and starting a new business, Alice has much of her world crashing down around her, especially while living in the shadow of her late father’s illustrious film career and her mother’s stardom. Dealing with this, all while remaining a solid rock of a single mother, but making mistakes in love and career, she turns to her new unconventional family of sorts for support. And it goes both ways, as the guys rely on her and learn lessons about love, family, and navigating Hollywood. Witherspoon in turn delivers this character with stunning alacrity and weight.
Meyers-Shyer does an expert job in delivering this heartwarming visual of unlikely and long lasting bonds. She both pays homage to and transcends the Nancy Meyers legacy — at one point, the film even pokes fun at Meyers with a joke about the soft white sheets in Alice’s guest house, which is a common visual through-line in any past Meyers movie. Moving past the stocked kitchens with welcoming natural lighting, Meyers-Shyer paints scenes rooted in both nostalgia and looking ahead. She presents a new Los Angeles and a modern Hollywood as an inviting backdrop to her characters all trying to find their place in it. As most romantic comedies will do, the scenes do not so much raise emotional and realistic stakes rather than tinge hope upon the modern melting pot family and the other countless 40-something women, men, and their children who have to pick up their lives when expectations don’t meet up with reality.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
In a month transitioning away from box office doldrums, Home Again is a warm and welcoming pick-me-up. Meyers-Shyer makes a bold debut along with the help of the always dynamic Reese Witherspoon and an equally talented extended cast; especially Pico Alexander and Jon Rudnitsky, who both leave impressively magnetic marks on the film. This isn’t a film that will force you to think all that much, or will be at all culturally relevant amidst a need for Hollywood diversity, but it is also a film that many look for in end of summer movies — a fun distraction.