"HOME AGAIN" — 2 stars — Reese Witherspoon, Nat Wolff, Lake Bell, Michael Sheen, Pico Alexander; PG-13 (some thematic and sexual material); in general release
"Home Again" means well, but it's just too scattered and implausible to work. The marketing for director Hallie Meyers-Shyer's film isolates Reese Witherspoon on a solid red background for the film's advertising materials, and with a similar focus in the movie, "Home Again" might have fared better.
Witherspoon plays Alice Kinney, the recently separated daughter of a famous deceased filmmaker. Now a single parent — she has two daughters — Alice has relocated to her father's old home in Los Angeles, where she is trying to start up a career as an interior decorator.
It is a time of transition, which explains a night of partying with her friends to celebrate her dreaded 40th birthday, and almost justifies them coming back to the house with a trio of 20-something aspiring filmmakers in town looking for their big break in Hollywood. The upstarts are also looking for a place to stay, and somehow by lunchtime the next day, Alice has offered them her guesthouse.
Things get messier and increasingly implausible from there, as a variety of plot threads compete for screen time. Alice starts up a reluctant romantic relationship with Harry (Pico Alexander), the smooth-talking aspiring director in the trio. The trio's writer, George (Jon Rudnitsky), begins mentoring Alice's older daughter, Isabel (Lola Flanery), on her school project. The third member of the trio — the actor, Teddy (Nat Wolff) — is mostly along for the ride, but he does manage to help Alice with her new website.
For a group of supporting characters, the trio grabs an awful lot of screen time as they work on their film project, which takes them to see various executives and producers, all of which want to immediately derail the boys' pure cinematic vision.
There's also a subplot about Alice's first interior design job for a wealthy diva named Zoey (Lake Bell), and in the middle of everything else, Alice's estranged husband, Austen (Michael Sheen), returns from New York determined to reconcile. There are plenty of good movies about people with messy lives, but too often "Home Again" feels like bits and pieces of multiple movies shoehorned onto a single screen.
For a film that seems to be a romantic comedy, Alice's prospects seem awfully bleak. Harry is obviously a temporary fling, and a reconciliation with Austen isn't going to work either. At times, you get the idea that Meyers-Shyer (who also wrote the script) wants us to see the trio of filmmakers as three different sides of the perfect man, but that concept never really takes root.
With so many moving parts, "Home Again" is bound to hit the target at least a few times, and there are moments where things seem to gel. The subplot between George and Isabel feels extraneous, but it also provides some sincerity. It's also fun to see Candice Bergen in a supporting role as Alice's mother, Lillian. But where superior movies are able to pull their separate parts together in a strong third act, "Home Again" seems to finish with a shrug. A film about the daughter of a great filmmaker should probably feel a lot more satisfying.
"Home Again" is rated PG-13 for some thematic and sexual material; running time: 97 minutes