Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s Home Again is a fascinating banality, the movie equivalent of staring at a bucolic motel painting until you start to see skeletons in the haystacks. It’s a rom-com about an adrift 40-year-old named Alice (Reese Witherspoon) who introduces herself by introducing her dad, a fictitious ’70s auteur who made films you don’t have to see to have seen: personal sagas about heartbreak and death starring ingenues in bikinis, most of whom he shagged. Alice’s mom Lillian (a breezy Candice Bergen) was less than half his age when they got married, and not much older when they divorced — atypical only in that she got a ring and baby out of the deal.
Pops was away shooting in Mykonos when Alice was born, and he’s long-dead before Home Again begins. But his ghost hides in the shadows of Alice’s sun-dappled life. He’s there in the selfish record executive (Michael Sheen) she married and had two daughters with, one of whom (Lola Flanery) is begging to go on anti-depressants. His statuettes and scripts clutter the Brentwood mansion she flees to when she and her husband, Austen, separate. And most of all, he’s there in the way Alice acts like her own back-up singer, halfheartedly trying on vanity careers like a clothing designer and a photographer while waiting for another loud man to seize her mic. So while it might seem off-kilter when she takes home 27-year-old Harry (Pico Alexander), a cocky director who just moved to LA after his short won SXSW, her therapist, if she had one, would say her terrible mate selection is perfectly in-key. (And her best friend, played by Dolly Wells, can’t resist noting that all their male friends are also dating millennials.)
Harry is a tall, handsome nothing, a strutting mannequin whose defining quality is skin as smooth and dense as butterscotch candy. He talks in a tranquilizing “Hey Girl” coo. Before taking Alice to bed, he purrs, “Got anything from IKEA I can assemble?” But he’s no fantasy man; Meyers-Shyer smartly makes him too selfish for that. Instead, she emphasizes his immaturity: the face that looks airbrushed, the ego that’s never taken a hit, the heart that’s never dealt with any relationship more complicated than a college fling. Occasionally, he gives a grand speech about his passion for film, which to the movie’s credit, no one takes seriously. He’s also gloweringly jealous of Austen — a beat that the movie considers both foolish and endearing, like a kid sulking over a participation trophy — while demanding total devotion from his creative partners, aspiring screenwriter George (SNL escapee Jon Rudnitsky) and his own actor-brother Teddy (Nat Wolff.) To anyone who’s survived dating 27-year-old, just-moved-to-town, wannabe directors, Harry’s more strung up with red flags than Chinese New Years. During the scene where he talks over his own black-and-white film while showing it to Alice in bed, the theater seats in LA will shudder like a 5.6 earthquake.