Surprisingly again, Reese Witherspoon (Lead Actress Oscar winner for “Walk the Line”) has settled for signing on the dotted line to partake in a woefully rudimentary romantic comedy. Usually considered somewhat of a spark plug in her plucky-type of roles (“Legally Blonde” being the most revered), Witherspoon is curiously reduced to playing what amounts to a walking sleeping pill in first time writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s mawkish, contrived comedy Home Again.
Witherspoon toils as Alice Kinney, a 40-year old single mother of two bright young daughters, whose life takes a turn when she separates from her New York City-based, music executive husband Austen (Michael Sheen, “Brad’s Status”). In doing so, she decides to leave the Big Apple with her children and return to her charming childhood home back in Los Angeles where she was pampered by her show business parents. Here Alice figures to get a fresh start, re-inventing herself as an interior decorator, but she has her finances to consider while establishing her freelancing career.
Clearly, the setup is to establish Alice as an affable soul who is open-minded and hopeful — the failed marriage and turning the big 40 are nothing more than obstacles for her to overcome. Which of course, she does as her fortunes change when she gives the green light for three aspiring filmmakers to stay under her roof at the guest house. These guys are special and pass the test because a.) they are in the “business” and that makes her movie-making parents extremely relevant again and b.) they are considered rather charismatic by Alice’s mother, Lillian (veteran Candice Bergen, “Bride Wars”) — an approval that is rather impressive. The trio of roommates consists of screenwriter George (Jon Rudnitsky, “Patchwork”), actor Teddy (Nat Wolff, “Death Note”) and director Harry (Pico Alexander, “A Most Violent Year”). In particular, the 27-year old Harry, despite the age difference, tickles Alice’s fancy as he reminds her so much of her late filmmaker father.
The ultimate problem with Home Again is that the farcical set-up is bland and the characterizations feel stiff and indifferent. Meyers-Shyer plays it safe and is reluctant to allow any radical staging of outlandish behavior to jump-start this formulaic romantic romp. As previously mentioned Witherspoon’s Alice appears restrained and boorish in staid material that should be inspired by a tumultuous life-changing shakeup. The May-December romancing between Alice and Harry has all the pop of an old “Love, American Style” rerun. Only Bergen’s star-maker “Mommy Dearest” Lillian and Witherspoon’s on-screen precocious offspring, Isabel (Lola Flanery, “The Mist” TV series) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield, “The Glass Castle”), breathe any passable energy into this witless vehicle.
Reese Witherspoon has shown us that she can, with indescribable ease and poise, portray a woman who is three-dimensional in perplexity — “Wild,” “Water for Elephants,” and the heralded HBO series “Big Little Lies” are proof of that. It is too bad that she could not transfer that fine-tuned feminine persona to Meyer-Shyer’s toothless narrative on transitional womanhood, bewildering motherhood, marital failure, cutesy (but comes off as creepy) age gap romancing, convenient affluence and winking at Hollywood’s synthetic importance. Silly-minded and relentlessly cloying, Home Again is not a home worth returning to.