SHORT TAKE: Home Again is a journey of discovery by a grotesquely self-absorbed woman who learns….nothing.
LONG TAKE: Reese Witherspoon is Alice Kinney, Hollywood brat of a former sex symbol, Lillian Stewart (Candice Bergen) and the now deceased but famous Fellini-ish director autre and philanderer John Kinney. Home Again is written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer, daughter of writers Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer, who collaborated to create both of the Steve Martin Father of the Brides, Alfie, The Parent Trap reboot and Ms. Meyers-Shyer herself. While their movies endured their marriage did not, Charles cruising through 3 marriages. So forgive me if I notice a resemblance between the protagonist, Alice, and the writer-director.
SPOILERS AHEAD A PLENTY BECAUSE I’D JUST AS SOON YOU READ THEM INSTEAD OF SEEING THIS HIDEOUS EXCUSE FOR A ROM-COM.
Alice Kinney abandons New York and her successful music producer husband Austen (Michael Sheen) of 15 years dragging their two young daughters away from their home and moves back to the Hollywood family home where she grew up – the scene of the crime, as it were – where she was raised to believe she was the point about which everyone else must pirouette. The separation is because……he works too much, presumably to keep her and their family in the style to which Ms Kinney assumes is hers by right of birth. Well, boo hoo for Ms. Kinney. By all accounts Austen doesn’t smoke, drink, gamble or cheat on her, is a gentle man in every sense of the word, a loving doting father and never are there flaws even hinted at that would justify Alice’s despicable exit from their married home. I have told my girls NEVER complain about a good man working hard for you or your family. It’s a shame her mother didn’t inculcate her with the same values.
After a nostaglic recap narration of the above (from her POV, of course) we open to said put-upon husband, despite being left, dutifully and sweetly calling to wish his egocentric wife a happy 40th birthday.
To celebrate, this paragon of motherhood dumps her children – not for the only time in the movie – to go out drinking and partying all night. Meanwhile a trio of young men are seeking their fortune as film makers – setting out with naught in their pockets and a handful of tenuous Hollywood connections. Director Harry (Pico Alexander), actor Teddy (Nat Wolff) and writer George (Jon Rudnitsky) are the bright spots in this film. A perfectly lovely comedy could have been made watching these three pretty adorable guys set out to achieve their life’s dream of making a movie. Instead they have the misfortune to meet Ms Kinney in the bar where she proceeds to allow Harry to seduce her. Amusingly enough Harry is too young to have drunk as much as he has and spends the night whoopsing instead of wooing. Fear not, though, they will eventually hop into bed during a series of nights where Alice dumps her kids off with Granny, the former movie star. The boys need a place to stay and Alice has room so Granny Lillian invites them to stay with Alice.
Acting out a narcissist’s dream we are supposed to believe that this 40 year old arm ornament can keep three men half her age and a cuckolded husband at her beck and call. Ignoring the fact that no sane woman would allow three strange men to stay, unsupervised, in a house with two daughters aged 11 and 6, the six of them set up housekeeping together. The boys cook, babysit, set up her website, chauffeur her children and provide her with…affection. Her husband humbly accepts her infidelity as part of the landscape and begs her to come back to him. In her dreams. Nothing against Witherspoon. She is a nice enough looking woman but it strains credibility beyond the breaking point to believe she could hold that much sway over these men without a magic wand or a secret potion.
I thought SURELY at some point she is going to notice that it takes these three men to equal her one husband. It’s like a loose retelling of the Wizard of Oz. Teddy is like the Tin Man, all heart – always concerned about how Alice will feel. George is the Cowardly Lion – encouraging Alice’s older daughter to participate in a play writing contest at school, yet afraid to accept a position as script doctor on a thriller until the little girl pushes him to do it. And Harry – he is the scarecrow who Alice falls for first. The brains and nerve of the operation, he keeps things moving forward.
As a side note, Mr. Alexander, who plays Harry, looks, sounds, moves, has quirky vocal inflections, and even a silhouette so much like a young Matthew Broderick, (except that Pico is about a foot taller than Matthew) that I am suspicious of the us.imdb.com web page on him which places his home country as Poland and his parents as no relation to Broderick’s parents. I’m going to continue to believe this is a made up biography to allow Matthew Broderick’s son, Pico, to establish himself on his own – that is until someone proves otherwise to me. (Only partly kidding.)
At the end of the movie, having turned down her husband’s plea to reconcile she sits, like a cobra surveying its choices of next meal, at a dinner where husband, former movie star mom, the two therapy-patients-in-the-making daughters, and the three young men all sit at table with her at the head, presiding like a queen bee. We end on her smiling in what is supposed to be beatific satisfaction, but to my mind looks reptilian. The ending song is Carole King’s “Home Again” but it should have been the screeching violins in the shower scene from Psycho.
I’m sure Ms. Meyers-Shyer thinks all this plausible from her POV in the Hollywood fantasy bubble in which she grew up and lives. But the reality is that a woman who leaves a perfectly good husband will NOT be living in a paid for mansion in Beverly Hills or sending her children to a posh Hollywood school. Heck she wouldn’t even be able to afford her partying at dozens of expensive bottles of wine a night. She would not find doting young men to cater to her every whim unless she paid them handsomely. Her children would be at serious risk of molestation or worse from her parade of strange men through her house. Child services would eventually be calling as her neglectful behavior of frequent drinking binges and promiscuity would get old very fast to her mother as the surrogate parent. Without any evidence of marketable skills she would be broke and waiting tables fairly quickly. And her husband would eventually challenge her for full custody of the children and probably remarry some one at least marginally less self-centered —one of the Kardashians perhaps.
I make no claim to know anything about Ms. Meyers-Shyer’s childhood beyond what is in this blog, which I read in us.imdb.com. But if all this sounds like a snake eating its own tail, I think it is. It’s a lot like the media doing stories about each other. They blather a lot, tell us nothing that isn’t obvious and demand everyone else see the world through their own narcissistic glasses which places their own desires at the center of a universe revolving around them.
And this is all relevant outside of a gossip column because….? Because women will see this movie and be led to believe it is glamorous to “follow your dream” by shucking your conventional home and husband, treat your children like pets you can move at will to further your own selfish agenda, and thrive. For many who might follow this foolish advice it will be too late before they realize they have wrecked their lives irreparably.
It’s not as though this movie didn’t have laughs. It did. The writing was often clever and the situations these people found themselves in was frequently amusing. But to lionize Alice Kinney’s abhorrent behavior is irresponsible in the extreme. Having lived through her own parents’ divorces one would think Ms. Meyers-Shyer would have known better. Apparently she didn’t learn anything from her personal journey of discovery either. I have no knowledge of or interest in Ms. Meyers-Shyer’s personal life but this situation is, pretty obviously, her warped dream-team fantasy world.
Home Again COULD have been about a woman striking out for “adventure” making a series of terrible mistakes and, like Dorothy, learns there’s no place like home. THAT would have been a movie worth seeing.
OR Ms. Meyers-Shyer could have stuck with the story of the three young men – the erzatz Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion, making their way through the Land of Oz that is Hollywood to find their own Emerald City. That could have made a charming, funny and memorable movie. Austen could have been the Wizard and Granny Lillian the Good Witch. The two young girls were given all the respect and maternal attention one would give to a pet anyway so they could sub for Toto. A Dorothy could have been found along the way. But the Wicked Witch in Home Again is pretty obviously Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s doppleganger – Alice Kinney.