Nancy Meyers has crafted her place as a very specific auteur in cinema. No, Michele Haneke and Terrence Malick shouldn’t watch their back. Meyers creates her own genre that’s a cross between HGTV and vintage Nora Ephron. For those well versed in Meyers granite plated filmography, “The Parent Trap” features two precocious twins – Hallie and Annie. These twins were named after Meyers own kids. Hallie Meyers-Shyer follows in her mother Nancy’s footsteps with her freshman debut, “Home Again.” Barely through the first scene, one can’t help but think they are watching a Nancy Meyers film. As the screen time runs on, the more it looks like a rip off of the Queen of Interior Production Design. Yet, even as the material looks patently derivative, the charms remain in tact.
The woman behind the cozy Los Angeles Spanish-style luxurious home is Alice Kinney (Reese Witherspoon). Alice has recently moved her and her two daughters from New York to her famous director Father’s home in Los Angeles in the wake of her divorce. Celebrating her 40th birthday, Alice runs into a group of three young twenty something filmmakers. After a night of partying, the boys wake up on Alice’s couch as she picks up beer bottles. Upon charming her radiant actress mother (an underused, but still radiant Candace Bergen), the boys talk Alice into staying in her guest house while they try and secure funding on their first feature.
Harry (Pico Alexander), the director of the trio, romances Alice, who indulges in this May-December romance. Meanwhile, George (Jon Rudnitsky), the writer of the group, excels not only at securing re-writing jobs but also child care. Teddy (Nat Wolff), the actor, pops in and out to drop a one-liner and a smile or to play with children. Every time he shows up on screen, he’s welcome.
While Meyers-Sheyer does her best to capture her mother’s filmmaking, she tries even harder to emulate her storytelling prowess. In that sense, she’s made every character likable, relatable and like someone a Grandma would want to pinch the cheeks of. The three millennials at the heart of the film’s arc boils down to them appreciating the importance of home decor and owning a vase. At one point, in the film’s most guttural laugh, Alice remarks that George is “like a woman.” Don’t worry, it’s meant as quite the compliment. The film knows enough about millennials as your Mom’s yoga friend. Yet, somehow all the actors sell this delightful fantasy. Nat Wolff’s Teddy fares the best, while former SNL cast member Jon Rudnitsky also slips into his sweater-vest role well.
Meyers work has never been very “conflict focused.” That trend carries on with her daughter. Watching pretty people play nice isn’t enough for a feature film. Yet, the conflict the film introduces feels unwelcome. As Austen, Michael Sheen amps up the creep factor as Alice’s deadbeat ex-husband. Despite walking around with an unkempt beard and old sweats, Alice seems perplexed over wether to choose between the three young men who live in her back house or the man she left in New York. Some of Reese’s best moments come from her attempts to get back into the work force as an interior designer. She becomes employed by a haughty new-age socialite, played with great specificity by Lake Bell, who constantly oversteps her boundary as boss. More scenes with Bell and less with Sheen could’ve improved the film immensely.
Still, if we’re talking about when Reese is at her most movie star best, it’s during her romantic moments. She shares great chemistry with Harry. Alexander does an admirable job of falling on the side of charming, rather than pretentious. Granted, in a real life social setting, Harry comes off as an entitled kid with an unearned artist’s ego that you’d stick with the bill on a first date. Yet, playing off the Oscar winning Witherspoon, Alexander brings Harry to life. They find an old school Hollywood rapport thats both out of place and oh so very welcome.
“Home Again” feels like comfort food, specifically low fat vanilla bean ice cream from Whole Foods. Yes, the film is that white, frothy and delightful. It’s chock full of everything you want on a Friday night with a bottle of cabernet sauvignon. There are exquisite kitchens, substantial use of montages of people laughing and morning yoga. Full confession, there was an outdoor movie date that brought me to tears. Yet, there’s nothing new or challenging about the film. In fact, there are multiple moments where the seams of a first time director shows. Still, if Hallie Meyers-Shyer decides to copy every staple of her mother’s filmmaking techniques, at least she copied her earnest warmth. Within minutes, “Home Again” made me feel right at home.