Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Nancy Meyers films offer an escape hatch from the pressing problems of the real world. That trap door is constructed from reclaimed driftwood and attached to an impossibly gorgeous Spanish-style manse, of course, but it’s a route away from our everyday. Her films beckon step up to window, place your face against the glass like a starving street urchin looking at rich person eating, forget all your travails and live carefree for two blissful hours! The world she builds is located far from our own stress, our own devastation, our own loneliness, our own destitution. It’s for Chardonnay drinkers, aspirational livers and reality deniers. These characters experience resonant, universal conflicts (like divorce, aging, neurotic self-doubt, etc.) all within the cushy, cozy confines of cinema’s answer to a Pottery Barn catalogue. Her daughter, Hallie Meyers-Shyer, has inherited this same gifted ability to transport us directly into a Pinterest-fueled dreamland with her writing and directing debut, HOME AGAIN. Capturing genuine humanistic moments and precisely balancing them with her parents’ aesthetic, Meyers-Shyer has crafted a practically perfect, feel-good romcom for the ages.
Things aren’t gold in the Golden State for one forty-year-old mother of two. Recently separated Alice Kinney (played by America’s Sweetheart Reese Witherspoon) has been forced to hit life’s reset button, moving back home to Los Angeles with her young daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield). Thank goodness she inherited her famous filmmaker father’s beautiful home and classic Porsche as a personal safety net. Whilst searching for a fulfilling career and a renewal of spirit, Alice meet-cutes three on-the-rise, aspiring filmmakers at a bar: screenwriter George (Jon Rudnitsky), director Harry (Pico Alexander) and his actor brother Teddy (Nat Wolff). As Harry lays the sweet talkin’ charm on Alice, George and Teddy ingratiate themselves with Alice’s girls and mother (SWEET HOME ALABAMA reunion alert! Candice Bergen). Feeling sorry for the guys, who are also caught in the midst of a transitional period, Alice agrees to temporarily shelter them in her guest home. Thus a new family unit is born! However, Alice’s newfound bliss and balance come to a screeching halt once her ex Austen (Michael Sheen) shows up to purposely shake up the power dynamic.
There’s a certain sense of comforting familiarity that permeates every frame of the picture. Meyers-Shyer creates a very regionally-on-brand notion of unconventional family, and makes it universally felt by keeping that warm, welcoming, communal sense of friends and family in the foreground. Themes of respect, love and friendship are its beating heart. While she weaves in expected genre tropes, like the meet cute, the “you lied to me” moment, and the climactic pursuit to an important event, she turns these traditional story beats on their heads. The meet cute isn’t Alice and Harry playfully hating each other. It’s about two equal people connecting. The “you lied to me” moment is explored through the guys’ relationships, and is not about the woman feeling betrayed by the man. And the climactic pursuit isn’t about romance, but rather a sweet mentorship between George and Isabel.
Though Myers-Shyer goes above and beyond to steer clear of potholes, she does court likenesses to her mother’s films. It caters to us fans, begging us to scratch the ingredients off an invisible checklist. A scene involving comfort food (like IT’S COMPLICATED)? Check. A discovery involving a humble filmmaker (like THE HOLIDAY)? Check. An impossibly gorgeous home and lots of white people (like ANY of Mama Meyers’ films)? Check. None of this is a problem per se, but I hope that as her skills mature, Myers-Shyer will find her unique, singular voice.
Despite sharing similar genre tropes and hallmarks with her mother’s films, Meyers-Shyer’s HOME AGAIN is somewhat of a rare bird. Not only do we have an older woman/younger man romance to cheer, there’s something to be said for showing real life through the lens of a female middle-aged protagonist full stop. Characters like Alice don’t necessarily exist in a genre typically built for women thirty and under. Alice, caught at the crossroads at forty, makes a brave, enlightened choice to leave her comfortable life. To have a film that speaks to quite a few women’s realities at this life stage (even one that’s housed in extra-ordinary circumstances) feels like a total coup. Plus, to see a heroine value personal happiness over potentially problematic romantic entanglements is inspirational.
As this world continues to burn all around us and society is destroying itself, HOME AGAIN provides a necessary touchstone to humanity – a most welcomed cinematic escape. Being insanely watchable is one thing. But the fact that it makes audiences feel good about their lives proves that it’s easy to go home again.
HOME AGAIN opens on September 8.