Take your typical Nancy Meyers wish-fulfillment romantic comedy — “Something’s Gotta Give” or “It’s Complicated,” say. Rub anything resembling an edge off, and rob it of any charismatic turns by stars such as Diane Keaton, Robert DeNiro (“The Intern”) or Meryl Streep.
And what you’d get is “Home Again,” a Reese Witherspoon turns-40 farce without laughs, a second-chance love, whiter-than-whitebread “Osca-winner gets her groove back” blend of “Entourage” and, oh, “The New Adventures of Old Christine.”
This Hallie Meyers-Shyer comedy – yes, she’s Nancy’s daughter with longtime husband and collaborator Charles Shyer (“Baby Boom,” “Father of the Bride”) — is so bad it brings to mind every withering put-down of Hollywood nepotism summed up by one lethal 1930s Variety headline about Louis B. Mayer putting the fellow who married his daughter in charge of MGM.
“The Son-in-Law Also Rises.”
Because everything about this newly-separated MILF coveted by three film school bros trying to break into Hollywood screams “old” and “insipid,” and hell, apple-falls-just-a-smidge-too-far from-the-tree.
Hallie has concocted a white Tyler Perry comedy of the post-Madea years, lovely monochromatic people, toned, made-up, coiffed and attired to the hilt for their high-end restaurants and tony picnics, vapid as all get out, but still capable of tiny stand-alone moments of profundity.
“At some point, I have to know better,” Witherspoon’s Alice Kinney, daughter of the late, great director John Kinney says — to herself, to the 27 year-old would-be director Harry (Pico Alexander) she’s bedded after inviting him and his wannabe an actor brother (Nat Wolff) and screenwriting partner George (Josh Stamberg) to move into the insanely-tasteful rambling Mission-revival house she inherited from her father.
Alice has two kids, a soon-to-be-ex-husband in the music business (Michael Sheen, giving fair value as always) and an ex-starlet mom (Candace Bergen).
Naturally, the children are smart-mouths of the sitcom variety, a Brooke Shields/Cara Delevigne-eyebrows tween just waiting for her first runway job and begging for “anti-depressants, just like every other kid my age” and an all-understanding New York sophisticated littler girl of six.
Grandma (Bergen) is over her “Lola In Between” stardom and the cheating husband who fathered Alice.
“I’m a big girl, now. And he’s dead. So I win.”
Alice? She’s weepy but plucky, pulling herself together, moving back home from NYC to start a design/decorating business for the insufferable rich (Lake Bell, inexplicably taking the name of famed stunt-woman Zoe Bell for her character).
But when Alice’s central casting clatch of ready-made “old friends” throw her a birthday dinner, she gets tipsy and succumbs to Harry’s charms — until he, unable to handle his liquor, throws up.
That leads to “when I was your age” cracks, and a lot of warm, matriarchal touches (she lets the three stay-over, and washes their clothes — “I was doing a load, anyway.”). That leads her mom to be flattered into inviting them to stay.
So Alice has a sitcommy house full of on-the-make lads trying to get a film made, (legions of colorless agents, producers to meet) but doubling as live-in babysitters, kid-taxi drivers, tech support, handymen and would-be lovers.
Until the not-quite-ex gets wind of this menage.
Hallie Meyers Shyer’s writing gift is cooking up compliments for her blase supporting players to give her star.
“You have an ‘I’ve got this’ about you that’s pretty impressive.”
Her directing style is to hold shots –mostly TV comedy styled close-ups — entirely too long — giving every player, even those old enough to know better — the chance to add a second, third and fourth facial gesture to her or his reaction.
Witherspoon & Co. make this feel like a late night walk through 1970s Central Park. You can’t make any headway for all the mugging. Compare her work in this to cable’s “Big Little Lies,” and see the trap “I just want to be LOVED again” movie stars let themselves fall into.
It’s the dullest movie about Tinseltown in decades, an irritating film full of irritating performances and maddeningly stupid scenes about the meeting mania that any potential film goes through. Casting a dull kid named after an LA street — Pico Alexander — is as on-the-nose and over-familiar as every ad nauseam observation about her hometown and the privileged bubble Meyers Shyer grew up in.
The age-old Hollywood tradition of passing on one’s work and place in the film food chain to one’s offspring — buying Junior or Junior Miss a credit — can sometimes seem appropriate. Jason Reitman’s “Magic Surname” career started well, even if the death-spiral that followed makes one question its wisdom.
But something about this film, this “legacy” career, makes “Home Again” an apt statement in the current political climate, where the mendacious mediocrity of nepotism is laid bare by the international laughingstock who occupies — with his not-exactly-MENSA offspring — the Oval Office.
Witherspoon? At some point, she had to know better.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for some thematic and sexual material
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Michael Sheen, Pico Alexander, Nat Wolff, Candace Bergen, Lake Bell.
Credits: Written and directed by Hallie Meyers Shyer. An Open Road release.
Running time: 1:35