Everything you need to know about Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s charming romantic fantasy, “Home Again,” can be summed up with a single shot of a sign for an elementary school play attended by the film’s characters. It’s the sort of sign you can tell the director saw as having a rough around the edges, school project kind of look about it. But with its impeccably crafted hand lettering and coordinating fall color scheme, it looks more like something you’d find at Pottery Barn than in an elementary school classroom.
That sign is in keeping with the general vibe of the film: it’s not quite real life, but a catalog approximation of it. That’s not necessarily a complaint; it’s generally what audiences want and expect from the kind of films that take place in what my boyfriend referred to after the screening as a “sun-dappled garden of perfection.”
Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s is the daughter of Nancy Meyers (“The Holiday,” “Something’s Gotta Give”), who specializes in those types of movies. And clearly, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. “Home Again” is as close to one of her mother’s films as you can get, so there’s a bit of a “I can’t believe it’s not butter” quality to watching it. You’d almost swear it was the real thing. But it sure is comfortable. It’s also frequently sweet and funny, but that’s just a bonus.
Reese Witherspoon stars as Alice Kinney, a single mother of two who has recently relocated back to Los Angeles after separating from her husband (Michael Sheen), and has moved into the luxuriously spacious home once owned by her famous filmmaker father.
While on a rare night out, celebrating her 40th birthday, she meets a 20-something aspiring filmmaker, Harry (Pico Alexander). The two hit it off, one thing leads to another, and she brings him back to her place.
It’s not exactly an incredible night of romance, but when her mother, Lillian (the always wonderful Candice Bergen), stops by the next morning, she finds Harry and his friends Teddy and George (Nat Wolff and Jon Rudnitsky) passed out on the couch. Making them breakfast and regaling them with stories of acting for Alice’s father, Lillian takes a liking to the boys and, learning that they are between apartments, suggests the three younger men move in with her daughter temporarily.
Soon enough, after living in such close proximity, Alice and Harry put aside their age difference and enter into a tentative relationship, with his friends along for the ride. To its credit, the film never treats it as strange that younger men would be charmed by Alice (she is played by Reese Witherspoon after all), and before long there’s even a bit of rivalry as more than one of Alice’s new housemates end up falling for her. Though it has to be said that even against the handsome but cocky Harry, it strains credibility that no one in the film immediately recognizes that George is clearly the catch of the bunch.
In addition to her penchant for tasteful home decor, Meyers-Shyer has clearly also inherited the gene for cinematic comfort food. “Home Again” more than satisfies in that regard. Happily she bucks her mother’s influence when it comes to the length of her film and her ability to write young people relatively convincingly (if in a somewhat sanitized version).
The script does get bogged down in side plots: In addition to chronicling Alice’s romantic exploits, the film also follows her attempts at getting back on track professionally as an interior decorator. The scenes of her dealing with an obnoxiously affluent client, played by Lake Bell don’t exactly add much, but they do give us scenes of Witherspoon and Bell bouncing off one another, which is pure delight. And as the film progresses, it leans too heavy on the boys’ efforts to get a movie made.
But these are minor quibbles, and the film works because of Witherspoon’s irresistible charms. She gets to flex her impressive screwball romance muscles once more, and she is clearly enjoying every minute of it. “Home Again” isn’t necessarily a dream destination, but it’s certainly worth a visit.