“Home Again” follows the bond between Alice, a 40-year-old single mother, and a trio of handsome young filmmakers who stay in her guest house and help raise her children. The film’s cast, spearheaded by Reese Witherspoon (“Big Little Lies”), boasts of actors with success in the realm of romantic comedies: Nat Wolff (“Death Note”), Jon Rudnitsky (“Saturday Night Live”) and Pico Alexander (“War Machine”) play Teddy, George and Harry respectively. The film tries hard to mimic the flirty tension of the three-to-one dynamic present in successes like “New Girl,” with the added element of motherhood for a fresh twist. However, everything about this movie is uncomfortable, unrealistic and odd; the cliché writing and sappy acting combine to create an inauthentic portrayal of the modern family.
At its base, the film’s premise is highly unrealistic, resting on the assumption that three hot 20-somethings in LA would trip over themselves to care for Reese Witherspoon and act as unorthodox father figures for her two daughters, rather than hang out in the city with people their own age. While the three guys sort of advance their own careers, a large majority of their time is spent talking to and about Alice. The film’s acting and writing work in tandem to elicit cringing discomfort, propelled by two overly precocious children and carried home by Harry’s awful flirtatious one-liners.
What is most frustrating about “Home Again” is its portrayal of the age-gender dynamic. Much of the movie’s plot rests on the relationship between Alice and Harry. Their romance evolves from a one-night stand to a seemingly exclusive commitment, until conflict ensues when Harry stands her up and Alice breaks it off. Films featuring an independent, sexual older woman sleeping with a younger man often characterize the woman as sexually insatiable, but she is ultimately uninterested in a meaningful relationship with the young man (think: “The Boy Next Door” and, a little better, “The Graduate”).
Alternatively, in “Home Again,” the dynamic between Alice and Harry is one of passion but also of genuine companionship. However, the film fails to fully explore this subversion of the genre to actually address the age gap seriously and discuss how differing levels of maturity and experience are negotiated in a legitimate relationship. In other words, what could potentially be problematic or empowering is largely ignored. Instead, the film is much more interested in all three men being in love with Alice without ever addressing it outright, resulting in basically no character development.
“Home Again” is another example of a film that suffers by way of poor acting despite a cast of established talent. Though helmed by the esteemed Witherspoon and flanked with supporting performances from Michael Sheen (“Passengers”), Lake Bell (“I Do… Until I Don’t”) and Candice Bergen (“Rules Don’t Apply”), the movie reads like a C-list Netflix original, exemplifying the Hollywood paradox in which bad films come from great actors.
Ultimately, “Home Again” is a contrived romantic comedy with a superficial, tedious tone. What this tame movie desperately needs is an R-rating, raunchier sex, a healthy dose of expletives and a rougher edge. Without these elements, “Home Again” is a one-dimensional, watered down film in which every character goes through the motions of a formulaic romantic comedy without genuine feeling or intrigue.