“Nothing that was supposed to be funny was actually funny.”
“Like a commercial for Sperrys.”
“Such a simple story shouldn’t be so hard to understand.”
“The best part was when Reese Witherspoon acted like a dog.”
-Early critical reactions to Reese Witherspoon’s newest film, Home Again
Kidding! Those are actually just notes from my personal notebook; unfortunately, they are indeed about Reese Witherspoon’s latest film Home Again. Witherspoon, once the queen of rom-coms like Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama, revisits the genre after spending the last decade on more serious fare (including a portrayal of June Carter Cash in 2005’s Walk the Line, which earned her a Best Actress Academy Award).
Directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer (also rom-com royalty…her mother is writer/director Nancy Meyers, of The Holiday and Parent Trap fame), Home Again is about Alice, a recently separated mother of two who returns to her family home in California after leaving her husband in New York. It’s difficult to feel that sorry for her, considering that her house looks like a less tacky version of The Bachelor mansion, she (inexplicably) already has an established group of friends, and she’s affluent enough to subsist on some intermittent interior design work. If there’s anything truly alarming about her life, it’s the alacrity with which her adolescent daughters “humorously” quote Zoloft commercials.
The movie opens with a voiceover from Alice, explaining two things—one, that her father (now deceased) was a famous 1970’s film director who married one of his stars (played in present day by Candice Bergen), and two, that she always lets loose on her birthday, since that’s what her dad told her to do (as a six year old). Both facts will prove very important.
Flash forward to her 40th birthday, where she’s going TOTALLY CRAZY with some appletinis and a wild bunch of two other affluent white women in the corner booth at restaurant. While she’s at the bar ordering herself a third drink (the decadence!), a twenty-something, JFK Jr. lookalike unexpectedly stops flirting with the bartender his own age to hit on Alice. Turns out Harry, as the hottie is called, is a burgeoning filmmaker himself, new to town along with his brother Teddy and writing buddy George. More drinking, flirting, and dancing ensue, and the three end up back at Alice’s house, where her hookup with Harry is interrupted by his delicate stomach.
Alice is full of regret the next morning (remember, she only goes wild one day a year, and that day has passed), so she’s mortified to find out that her mother has offered the boys her guest house while they settle in. It’s only a matter of time before these hot, young, single twenty-somethings are playing with her daughters, cooking dinner, setting up family movie nights, and revamping Alice’s website. You know, normal hot-young-single-twenty-something things. One night after Harry steamily fixes Alice’s cabinet (not a euphemism), the two start hooking up for real. It’s all fun-and-games / brunch-and-throw pillows until Alice’s ex Austen (an actually funny Michael Sheen) shows up, understandably wondering why his daughters are being raised by the pages of a J. Crew catalogue and why his wife (WHO ONLY GOES WILD ONCE A YEAR) is now sleeping with a child. CONFLICT OCCURS, but like everything else in Alice’s life, it’s vague, adorable, and easily solved.
Perhaps Home Again would’ve been a success ten years ago, but it’s a testament to our collective maturation of taste that its tone feels so clueless in 2017. I’m fine if rom-coms are short on realism; what I take issue with is when the experience is also short on enjoyment. The genre is supposed to be indulgent, and Home Again is certainly that, but none of its indulgences are that fun or that funny. Even the premise of an older woman catching the attention of a handsome, adoring, younger man (which in theory I am 100% for) is lacking, because rather than enjoying any of her power, Alice lets Harry call all the shots. She waits for him to make the moves, cries when he stands her up at a dinner party, and consistently questions what he sees in her. If I never see another woman onscreen sad about a man who doesn’t deserve her, it won’t be soon enough.
While lamenting to a friend just how bad the movie was, she said “Well, obviously, romantic comedies are dead,” which to some extent, I think is true. Thanks to women like Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Jessica Williams, Mindy Kaling, Issa Rae, Ilana Glazer, Abbi Jacobsen, and Amy Schumer (to name just a few), there’s a much larger place for women in comedy, one that doesn’t necessarily need to be preceded by the adjective “romantic” to be marketable. If rom-coms are going to make a comeback, they’re going to need to broaden their perspective of women’s fantasies; we dream of a lot more than a hot guy to notice us for two hours.-Rachel Woldum