Film Review: Home Again

Aggressively upbeat rom-dramedy about a striving L.A. interior designer single mom who inherits a trio of appealing young wannabe filmmakers as tenants is so determined to please, it does.
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Let’s get this out of the way: Neither the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board nor L.A. Chamber of Commerce were producers or financiers of this unabashed celebration of the good L.A. life and its glam industries. But anyone who’s ever fantasized about what it would be like to “make it” in this clubby milieu while tapping into female empowerment need fantasize no further.

Even if the film from debuting filmmaker Hallie Meyers-Shyer arouses suspicions of propaganda and strong hints of navel-gazing—her parents are this film’s producer Nancy Meyers (director of such hits as Something’s Gotta Give and the more recent delight The Intern) and producer Charles Shyer (Alfie, Private Benjamin), Home Again also manifests the skill and intelligence that make less lofty designs thoroughly entertaining.

Following a trend to aim at more specific audiences, this contraption for females of the species approaching middle age and career success hits its target with recycled but dependable ammo. The lead bullet inhabiting this stylishly contrived and comfortable microcosm is Reese Witherspoon’s Alice, turning 40 and newly arrived back to live in her lovely L.A. family home from New York after separating from her record industry husband Austen (Michael Sheen). She returns with her two precocious daughters, 11-year-old Isabel (Lola Flanery) and the adorable younger Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) and apparently few regrets about the failed marriage.

She quickly jumps back into L.A. life by celebrating her 40th birthday on a night out with old pals, including best bud Tracy (Dolly Wells), and leaves the kids in the superb care of her widowed mom (Candice Bergen), a former star in some of the films made by her late husband John, who was Alice’s sort-of-famous director dad.

On the night out at bars and clubs where noise and booze generously flow, Alice meets a trio of young filmmakers in need of new digs. These are aspiring actor and former Genius Bar expert Teddy (Nat Wolff), aspiring writer George (Jon Rudnitsky), and last but far from least the oldest, handsome (make that gorgeous) 27-year-old Harry (Pico Alexander), with whom Alice begins a hot affair after bringing the three homeless men back to her place after a boozy night for all.

Such doings are further facilitated the next day when Alice’s mom pops in unexpectedly with the kids, meets the slightly hung over but charming men and insists they take up residence in the nice guest house abutting the main property.

Running parallel to the romantic plotline is Alice’s attempt to establish herself as an interior designer and her encounter with Zoey (Lake Bell), the rich, busybody socialite from hell who lets Alice decorate one of her children’s bedrooms before turning Alice into a P.A.

Another strand follows the trials of the filmmakers: Without informing team leader Harry, Teddy auditions and George takes on a freelance writing job. And there’s the promise and annoyance of big-talking producer and possible money source Justin (Reid Scott), who may be their salvation.

Regarding the film’s take on the overriding female-empowerment theme, all Alice really has to do in her pursuit of new romance, career advancement and devoted motherhood is, as Woody Allen once put it when describing the way to success, just show up. And the film’s empowerment theme manifests off-screen in what might be crudely called “the daughter also rises,” a spin on the famous Hollywood nepotism quip “The son-in-law also rises” (apparently spurred by Louis B. Mayer, who hired his), as filmmaker Meyers-Shyer is blessed with such enviable biz pedigree.

In its march to please, Home Again mines much humor from the Witherspoon, Bergen and Bell performances and the film also has some satiric fun with sendups of young Hollywood agents and rising producers, often figures of more (familiar) talk than action.

But there are weak points: Diversity is out of this picture, although there’s some very subtle flirtation with Teddy being gay—odd man (not) out, he doesn’t fall for Alice. Worse, the few conflicts in this story are, at best, lame—e.g., hubby Austen showing up without notice and requesting of Alice a reconciliation and the major but wholly predictable “conflict” of one character disappointing another by being a no-show at a dinner party. There’s also that clichéd ticking-clock denouement at a school play with much at stake.

But Home Again, also fueled by a rollicking soundtrack of oldies and newies, is a nonstop blast of happy, pretty, nice things. From frame one, it’s clear the film is determined not to destroy even one moment of viewer feel-good, and don’t we deserve that these days?

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