The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree as Hallie Meyers-Shyer, daughter of rom-com doyenne Nancy Meyers (the maker of The Holiday and What Women Want) makes her screenwriting and directorial debut. Meyers senior’s confined to producing duties for Home Again but that doesn’t stop this all from feeling exactly as familiarly saccharine as you’d expect from her own populist oeuvre.
In a shrewdly perfect piece of casting, the continually delightful Reece Witherspoon leads the film as Alice, a new member of the forties club, who’s relocated with her two daughters from New York to LA, in the aftermath of splitting from her music producer husband Austen (Michael Sheen). After an overlong intro, establishing Alice’s father to have been successful film director and polygamist John Kinney, we join her on her fortieth birthday, sobbing into a mirror. Of course, this follows a recital of the wise words her father imparted to her before she died: ‘This is your day, your year, get ready Alice, the future is yours’.
In rom-com land, however, things have a funny way of turning out for the best and it’s not long before three young wannabe filmmakers – with nowhere to live and careers at the mercy of slick and slimy execs – turn up. There’s George (Jon Rudnitsky), the empathetic writer and John Kinney fanboy; dim Teddy (Nat Wolff), the actor, whose a whiz with websites, if not with words; and smooth-talking Harry (Pico Alexander), who cuts off from chatting up an age-matching barmaid to swivel his charms in the direction of Alice. Several drinks later and the boys are back at Casa Kinney. As Alice’s mother Lillian (Candice Bergen) puts it the next morning: ‘Since when has having three adorable guys hanging around been such a bad thing…maybe they could help you out a little?’
Less laugh-out-loud than chuckle-inside, Home Again only occasionally hits on belly-ticklers; the ones it does land, meanwhile, betray the upbringing of a writer who’s grown up very much within the Hollywood industry. One rather brilliant scene, in which the trio pitch their film to Reid Scott’s erstwhile horror director Justin, sees Teddy declare: ‘Oh, George writes women really well! My love interest is a great part.’ To which Justin replies that the picture he really wants to make is ‘an awards movie…like, a really great movie’. More often than not, though, it’s a cosy ease of plotting that guides the film, with rye nods middle age and a caddish Sheen having lots of fun. Knowing what’s coming is okay when the journey feels worthwhile, whilst there’s an audience that will simply bathe in the film’s warmth. When Alice protests: ‘What if the kids don’t feel comfortable…?’ (about having the guys stay), we all know full well – and a good minute before she does – that Meyers-Shyer is about to pan to everyone having a wonderful time in the fabulously tidy garden.
Temptation might be to note that a gender-reversed version of the film would come under fire for having three young women pining over an older man – and, it’s true, there are plenty of stinkers of that ilk. Yet, those films haven’t half the balance in character of these and there frankly aren’t enough comedies in which women over thirty-nine are granted the chance to have fun and be sexy whilst not having to face humiliation in the process. All of Bridget Jones’ film suitors, for instance, are older than her.
Ultimately, though, reason this works, the reason it doesn’t collapse under all of the schmaltzy, silly, predictability, is primarily because of the simple question: who doesn’t want to crash with Reece Witherspoon for a week?