By Chaz Lipp

The Lowdown: Scattershot laughs can’t elevate this artificial rom-com about a struggling interior designer and her three mild-mannered filmmaker house guests.

There are worse rom-coms out there than Home Again, starring Reese Witherspoon as a directionless single mom who’s also the daughter of a legendary film director. But the artificiality that runs through this one leaves it feeling pretty vacant. Writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer (herself the daughter of famous filmmaker parents, Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer) seems intent on making sure her cast never once behaves the way rational, realistic human beings do. She strands Witherspoon, who is fresh off some of her career-best work in HBO’s Big Little Lies, in a dopey, decidedly backwards-thinking role that nearly squashes the actress’ natural vitality.

Alice (Witherspoon) has a couple kids, a cushy lifestyle, but is still reeling from her recent breakup with husband Austen (Michael Sheen). In one of many shortcuts taken by Meyers-Shyer, we never really understand why Alice and Austen are separated—they seem to still love each other. Alice is struggling with her upstart interior design business, which finds her doing as much babysitting for clients as decorating. Her mother Lillian (Candice Bergen) hopes to see her return to the dating scene, but Alice seems focused on becoming more than just her revered late father’s daughter.

While celebrating her 40th birthday, Alice meets three twentysomething filmmakers, Teddy (Nat Wolff), Harry (Pico Alexander), and George (Jon Rudnitsky). For purely superficial reasons, Teddy and Alice take a liking to each other and before the night is over all three young men are at her house to sleep off a night of heavy boozing. Nothing untoward happens (Teddy’s too drunk to perform), but the next morning the boys realize who Alice’s dad was. Turns out they’re on the brink of getting an art-house film produced (and battling the financiers over just how commercially-viable their film needs to be). Alice agrees to let them crash in the guest house while they get their affairs sorted.

Elements of a potentially funny farce threaten to emerge as Alice realizes these guys are more interested in her parents (mom Lillian starred in many of dad’s famous works) than her. None of this reaches a full boil though, with Meyers-Shyer more concerned with indulging in a middle-aged female fantasy—a rather regressive one, at that. Teddy never once balks at the age difference between he and Alice. George is more than happy to shuttle Alice’s kids around to lessons. Harry picks up the slack wherever needed. These guys are always perfect gentleman, never causing ripples in Alice’s lifestyle. In other words, paraphrasing one of her friends, Alice has live-in childcare, cooking, and sex—all at no cost.

What’s missing from Home Again is any sense of true conflict. Alice’s exasperation over her feeling of uselessness is central to the story, but Meyers-Shyer can’t make it compelling. Hints that Alice is overly reliant on anti-anxiety meds never coalesce. Gentle laughs are scattered throughout, at least until a cliched rivalry between Teddy and Austen (who has flown to L.A. because he misses Alice so terribly; he hopes to reconcile, she still wants to finalize the divorce for unstated reasons). Nancy Meyers produced Home Again and those who enjoy her films (including The Intern, It’s Complicated, Something’s Gotta Give) will probably find it an easy watch. But if Hallie Meyers-Shyer plans to continue making movies, she needs to develop her own style rather than Xeroxing her mother’s.

Home Again (2017) images: Open Road Films

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