Just because the parents made several good movies doesn’t mean that they passed the ‘good movie’ gene along to their children. First-time writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer is the daughter of Nancy Meyers, who directed “What Women Want” (2000), “Something’s Gotta Give” (2003), “The Holiday” (2006), “It’s Complicated” (2009), and “The Intern” (2015). Furthermore, her father, Charles Shyer is best known for “Irreconcilable Differences” (1984), “Baby Boom” (1987), “Father of the Bride” (1991), “I Love Trouble” (1994), and “Father of the Bride, Part II” (1995). Now, Meyers-Shyer has made her cinematic debut as the director of “Home Again” (* OUT OF ****), a sickly-sweet, featherweight, contemporary romantic comedy about love, friendship, and families that comes laden with clichés. Indeed, if you look scrutinize it, you may spot the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears lurking in this treacle-flavored, feel-good comedy that would send a Grinch into convulsions. America’s sweetheart Reese Witherspoon plays Alice Kenny, a forty-something mom who uproots her two young daughters from New York City and moves back to her hometown Los Angeles. Alice has grown weary of her stale marriage to her smug, British-born, music mogul husband, Austen (Michael Sheen of “Passengers”), who has made it a habit of coming home with Jose Cuervo on his breath. Now that she is back in L.A., where her mom, former movie starlet Lillian Stewart (Candice Bergen of “Soldier Blue”) lives, Alice decides to embark on a free-lance career as an interior home designer. Meantime, her two daughters, Isabel (Lola Flanery of “Trauma”) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield of “The Glass Castle”) find the transition from East Coast to West Coast a little disconcerting. Truth be told, Alice is feeling a bit blue, too. Among other things, this frivolous potboiler involves a May-December romance between Witherspoon and a far younger Romeo that kindles few sparks as well as some screwball humor about one of our heroine’s flaky clients. Ironically, the advertising campaign for “Home Again” insists that: “Starting over is not for beginners.” Comparably, starting up is not for beginners either, considering that Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s freshman effort is as inoffensive as it is lukewarm.
Mind you, Alice and her daughters have little trouble finding a place to live. They settle into the palatial bungalow where Alice once lived as a child with her late father, John Kenny (David Netto), a renowned director of 1970’s era arthouse movies. Later, during an alcohol-fueled birthday party at a local restaurant with her girlfriends, Alice runs into three aspiring, twenty-something filmmakers who have just been evicted from their hotel because they cannot pay their rent. You couldn’t find a nicer trio of handsome, charming, broke guys like Harry (Pico Alexander of “War Machine”), Teddy (Nat Wolff of “Paper Towns”), and their friend George (Jon Rudnitsky of “Patchwork”), but where did these guys get the money to pay for those drinks? Anyway, the party grows legs, and everybody winds up at Alice’s place. Hormone-addled Harry cannot resist making a pass at Alice, and Alice cannot resist the 27-year old stud muffin’s confidence. They wallow in some guilt-free sex behind closed doors. The two awaken the following morning without any concerns about indiscretion, and Harry treats Alice like a princess. The night before Alice went out with her girlfriends, she had entrusted Isabel and Rosie to the care and supervision of her mother. Lillian was supposed to take the girls to school. Instead, she brings them over to find everybody recovering from their mild Bacchanalian without any repercussions. It doesn’t hurt matters that the guys worship the films of Alice’s late father. Moreover, they not only recognize, but they also idolize Lillian, who starred in John Kenny’s movies. Lillian revels in their adulation and rustles up breakfast for them while recounting her glory days in Tinseltown. Later, she convinces a reluctant Alice to let these adorable dudes move into the guest-house rent-free until they can get on their feet. As it turns out, Harry, Teddy, and George have just signed with a Hollywood talent agency, and they are struggling to get their short movie produced as a feature length film. It doesn’t hurt matters that Harry’s brother Teddy knows how to cook, and George becomes Isabel’s best friend. Furthermore, George inspires Isabel to write a play for her elementary school about her family. Naturally, Alice’s jealous husband learns about this odd arrangement and tears himself away from his business to fly out to Los Angeles so he can reunite with his daughters and perhaps even reconcile with Alice. He is also around to make sure that Alice doesn’t make a fool of herself with gallant Harry. Indeed, Alice does make a fool of herself with Harry, before she realizes the error of her ways. Meantime, the guys don’t care for Austen any more than he cares for them. Inevitably, this happy house of cards collapses, and Alice explains to Harry that they aren’t made for each other. Teddy and Austen clash in the most inoffensive and sloppy fistfight in cinematic history. Naturally, Alice intervenes, and she sends the guys packing, much to Austen’s delight. No sooner have they left the premises than Alice lowers the boom on Austen and asks for a divorce.
“Home Again” is not one of Reese Witherspoon’s better efforts. It lacks the sparkle of her better movies, such as “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Freeway,” and conjures up none of the wit of her “Legally Blonde” chick flicks. Nothing about this breezy but superficial saga is remotely memorable, and it relies primarily on hopeless artifice that amounts to sheer fantasy. Basically, this movie resembles a situation comedy where nobody suffers any consequences for their actions, and everybody kisses and makes up without any lingering ill will to others. Finally, most moviegoers may find it difficult to sympathize with our affluent white protagonist who doesn’t have to struggle to assert herself. Ultimately, “Home Again” qualifies as ‘a comfort food movie’ for audiences that prefer to shun anything approaching reality.