HOME AGAIN  * * 1 / 2

Starring Reese Witherspoon, Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky, Michael Sheen and Candice Bergen. Written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer.

I believe it was in college during a presumably addled viewing of Freeway –that deliriously nasty, white trash piss-take on Little Red Riding Hood from writer-director Matthew Bright– when I first swore my undying allegiance to its leading lady, an up-and-coming young actress named Reese Witherspoon. Such was our affinity for this particular performance that before the end credits my friend Greg insisted he would someday marry her.

Sadly, superstardom precluded Witherspoon from starring in any more filthy indies as cheerfully appalling as Freeway, and she never did end up with Greg. But twenty years later the diminutive spitfire remains a crackerjack comedienne and typically the best thing about whatever she happens to be in. Witherspoon’s precision-timing and Type-A intelligence elevate everything around her, even a picture as anodyne as Home Again.

Directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer, whose mother Nancy Meyers has cornered the market on cozy comedies of affluence with strong female leads and exquisite interior design, Home Again strives to be in the same league as mom’s Something’s Gotta Give, It’s Complicated or The Intern – but it lacks a certain specificity in the screenplay department. The characters all feel one draft away from being distinctive, and while we’re at it the set decoration could use some touching up.

Witherspoon stars as the daughter of a deceased Hollywood legend, and from context clues we can surmise he’s like if John Cassavetes had won an Oscar and his movies actually made money. Upon separating from her sleazy New York music mogul husband (a mugging Michael Sheen) she takes the kids and moves back into Dad’s sprawling Hollywood mansion to get some tart advice on starting over from her mom (Candice Bergen, who I guess is supposed to be playing a Gena Rowlands who got dumped.)

During a drunken night out on her fortieth birthday, our heroine recklessly hooks up with a handsome dullard (Pico Alexander) thirteen years her junior and faster than you can say “cougar” she’s got him and his two equally obnoxious film school buddies crashing in her dad’s guest house, where they all indulge in some mildly amusing sitcom shenanigans. Reese rocks several pairs of mom jeans and her formidable charisma carries these three young actors I doubt we’re going to see in another big movie anytime soon.

It’s one of those not unpleasant nor surprising stories in which at the end everyone’s in a big rush to get to the school play. There isn’t an awful lot at stake here and never any question of Witherspoon ending up with either her banal boy toy or Sheen’s preening, penitent hubby. To the extent that Home Again is refreshing it’s in that here’s a picture about a sexually desirable middle-aged woman who is pursued by several men before deciding that she deserves better than all of them. She deserves a better movie, too.


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