HOME AGAIN

Directing: B-
Acting: B+
Writing: C
Cinematography: B
Editing: B

Home Again had a unique effect on me. I can't think of any other movie that started out inadvertently creeping me out and ended by winning me over with its objectively contrived charms. I can't even think of anyone I would recommend this movie to, at least not fairly. If I wanted to jump right into sweeping generalizations, I'd say that superficial and/or easily entertained middle-aged women would love it. Okay maybe also superficial and/or easily entertained middle-aged gay men.

Everyone else? Not so much. Smug intellectuals and anyone who fancies themselves a movie connoisseur would revel in tearing this movie apart. This movie isn't for them anyway.

Home Again has much in common with Nancy Meyers movies like Something's Gotta Give (2003) and It's Complicated (2009) -- and for good reason: it's written and directed by Meyers's own daughter, Hallie Meyers-Shyer, practically as an homage. I'll give her this much credit: Meyers may be well-known for placing characters in lavishly decorated homes that seem far more expensive than they could possibly afford, but Meyers-Shyer actually lends the impeccable home some real plausibility. Reese Witherspoon's Alice Kinney lives in a gorgeous home left to her by her late dad who was a famous film director. And after all, Meyers-Shyer knows from having a famous film director parent.

The plausibility of the premise is another story. Alice, on her fortieth birthday, meets a blandly handsome twenty-something, Harry (Pico Alexander), at a bar, and takes both him and his two friends home. Harry sleeps in her bed after getting sick before they can consummate a would-be one-night stand, and his friends pass out on living room couches. Before she knows it, Alice's formerly famous actor mother (Candice Bergen, given not near enough to do) is suggesting she allow these "struggling artist" types who are trying to get a movie made to stay a few nights in her guest house.

Harry is a director, and his friends are writer George (Jon Rudnitsky) and actor Teddy (Nat Wolff). Together they form this one-dimensional trio of young Stepford Men whose main quality is that they all embody what every adoring old lady imagines their grandson to be, which is to say, flawlessly wholesome. These guys are always just barely off from how normal humans interact with each other, another writer could really take this into another direction and reveal them to be pod people. Honestly, I don't think Hallie Meyers-Shyer really knows what it's like to be young and trying to make it as a filmmaker in L.A. These kids get all the luck, encounter no grime or starvation, and somehow successfully move in on what in L.A. qualifies as a upper-middle-class family. Anywhere else, Alice would simply be rich.

Somehow, though, even in L.A., Alice has no entitlement complex, and neither do these three young men. That seems left up to the "socialite" played magnificently by Lake Bell, who briefly employs Alice as the fledgling interior designer she's attempting to reinvent herself as.

And that's the thing about Home Again, really: the performances. The material is far too trite for any of it to be exactly Oscar-worthy, and yet all of the seasoned players elevate the material. Meyers-Shyer's writing has serious room for improvement, but Reese Witherspoon hasn't met a single line of dialogue she can't make work. It doesn't take long to start rooting for Alice, even though her problems are so benign. Everyone in this movie is so relentlessly pleasant, not even Michael Sheen as the separated husband can manage to be unlikable. Alice has two young daughters who are, of course, both precocious and adorable.

There are no shitbags in this universe! In Los Angeles. That alone should disqualify the whole movie. But, as the story went on, I found myself won over by this objectively stupid movie, because -- well, that's what well-executed fantasies do. Home Again doesn't present itself as a fantasy, which is one of its many problems. It also has three Millennial men so "decent" they come off as anachronistic. It's like members of the Cleaver family from Leave It to Beaver time traveled to present day but somehow just didn't notice. Although, okay, Harry Cleaver does have sex with a forty-year-old woman. Leave it to someone in the Meyers family to make even that come across as wholesome.

Not that it can't be, mind you. It's just that in the Meyers world, there are no truly deep character flaws -- only minor mistakes the world's exclusively good people quickly learn from. Honestly, nothing about this movie is sensible, except for the idea that a woman can date a younger man and not be judged for it. It's disconcerting to see such a ridiculous story carried by winning performances.

  Reese Witherspoon and Pico Alexander make an attractive inter-generational sandwich.

Reese Witherspoon and Pico Alexander make an attractive inter-generational sandwich.

Overall: B-