Before the screening started, I thought to myself…didn’t Reese Witherspoon already make a movie called Home Again? I Googled and there was a Home Again that came out five years ago, but it wasn’t with her. The movie I was thinking of was Sweet Home Alabama.
Witherspoon has done some great work on screen (I still think Election might be one of the Top 5 dark comedies ever made), but the last few movies that come to mind are her Oscar nominated performance in Wild — a wildly overrated film; and Hot Pursuit, the comedy with Sofia Vergara that was so bad it made my worst of the year list a few years ago. The commercials for this didn’t look very promising, and it was done by Nancy Meyers’ (Something’s Gotta Give, It’s Complicated, The Holiday, etc.) daughter — writer/director Hallie Meyers-Shyer, in her film debut.
I ended up being pleasantly surprised by this movie.
Witherspoon plays Alice, a mom raising two kids that’s recently separated from her husband (Michael Sheen). It’s hard to muster any sympathy for her. She’s an attractive 40-year-old, has a nice house she inherited from her famous, film-making father, and a cool mom (Candice Bergen), who was an actress that is always willing to babysit. She has a tight group of friends she has drinks with (which is odd, considering she just moved to LA from New York). Let’s face it…they’re rich, white girl problems. That doesn’t mean you can’t kick back and enjoy these breezy little scenarios she’s getting herself into.
Alice meets a good looking young filmmaker named Harry (Pico Alexander) while having drinks on her birthday. It’s a bit odd that she (or the audience), isn’t turned off by the fact that he’s hitting on the bartender when she approaches and he shifts gears to try picking her up with cheesy lines.
The movie American Pie created the crude term MILF, in regards to attractive mothers. In this, it’s a cute scene that has this mom washing, drying, and folding his clothes after their one-night stand. That’s a MILFML — Mom-I’d-Like-Folding-My-Laundry.
That soon leads to the other two filmmakers (one his brother — played by Natt Wolff of Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars), going from crashing in the living room to moving in. Since grandma (Candice Bergen) is impressed by their knowledge of her late husband, an Oscar winning filmmaker, she encourages her daughter to let them stay. After all, they’re budding filmmakers and it’s supporting the arts.
I like the fact that in flashbacks, the filmmaking father seems like one of those Cassavetes type, 1970s directors we all love. Some stills looks like he’s filming the Mazursky movie Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. There are a few nods to those great ‘70s films. At one point, one of the young men uses a line from Carnal Knowledge, which I’m sure nobody will catch except perhaps Candice Bergen who was actually in the film.
It might feel a bit like a sitcom, but how can you not be charmed by these guys cooking dinners and helping one of the anxiety-ridden daughters with a school project?
Lake Bell, a director, writer, and actress I love, shows up as a rich woman that hires Alice for a new job she’s trying to get started. None of those scenes quite pay off.
There are a few other missteps, too. One scene involves Alice waiting at a dinner party for her new suitor, only to cry later when he doesn’t show up. Yet she knew he was at a meeting to get funding for his film, and he kept texting her how late it was running. It didn’t seem true to her character — a woman that was in charge of everything going on in her life — to lose it so much over something so small. And one of the refreshing things about this movie is that they didn’t make this woman a pathetic character that other romantic comedies seem to box women into.
I thought the movie could’ve used a few more laughs. It also could’ve use a bit more romance. It’s like…instead of the movie making us fall in love with the romance, we put it in the friend zone.
The writing was rather sharp. The first half of the movie especially. For example, when Alice expresses reservations about bringing her young love to a dinner party because of the age difference, her friend astutely points out, “All the single guys our age date women that age, and they’re not self-conscious.”
The second half of the movie, isn’t as good as the first half, and becomes more of a sitcom. The husband flies in from New York to see what the deal is with these three young men. And poor Alice…she has to choose between a husband that’s the father of her kids, or a young guy that’s already showing signs of being the type of “player” her husband has become.
The movie gets credit for using talented cinematographer Dean Cundey (Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, Escape From New York, Halloween, Romancing the Stone, Apollo 13). He got great shots of the gorgeous sets.
The movie loses a point for starting off with the Yes song “I’ve Seen All Good People,” because it’s the same song that starts the terrific film The Family Fang a few years ago.
Things also might wrap up a little too neatly for some folks, but hey…it gave me a nice glowing feeling.
It’s a serviceable rom-com.
3 stars out of 5.