Home Again, a shambles of a first feature written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer, purports to tell the story of a woman reinventing her life in Los Angeles as she confronts middle age. On more levels than one, though, the film is about the enduring potency of Hollywood connections.
It wouldn't be worth mentioning that Meyers-Shyer comes from industry royalty but for the fact that this film would never have made it past a pitch meeting — still less attract the top-drawer likes of Reese Witherspoon, Michael Sheen and a very game Candice Bergen — without the cachet of her famous writer mother. Nancy Meyers made Something's Gotta Give, It's Complicated and a very good remake of The Parent Trap. Meyers Sr. also produced Home Again, which, not coincidentally, is a slapped-together knockoff of a Nancy Meyers movie.
The long shadow that Hollywood casts on its spawn is one of several half-cooked themes that protrude from the plot. Right off the bat, Alice Kinney (Witherspoon, returning uneasily to the perky persona she sloughed off eons ago) tells us in voice-over that she grew up with a father who adored her. She adored him back until it became clear that, in addition to being a highly regarded Hollywood director, he was a serial philanderer who left her mother (Bergen) for a pregnant girlfriend.
In life, the director's father is the producer and sometime-director Charles Shyer, whose résumé includes Father of the Bride and whose divorce from her mother made big news on the industry circuit. In the movie, the mildly rascally dad is glammed up in black-and-white flashbacks as a John Cassavetes-type director of important works. He is also dead, but his legacy lives on as a template for the chronically unreliable men to whom Alice is drawn like a moth to flame.
We meet Alice on her 40th birthday, newly separated from one such specimen, her feckless husband Austen (Michael Sheen), a New York music executive who is all promise and no delivery. Returning to Los Angeles with their two little girls — the tots converse knowledgeably about antidepressants in ways we are, depressingly, invited to find cute — Alice moves back into her father's capacious home, poor thing, the one with 1000-thread-count sheets.
She gets a gig of sorts as decorator to a wealthy matron (Lake Bell, supplying all-too-fleeting comic relief). Luckily, help is at hand for the beleaguered single parent, in the buffed persons of three young aspiring filmmakers who materialize at her side like dwarfs ministering to Snow White. Moving into the guest cottage, they offer all manner of affable services from baby-sitting to carnal exchange to copious oohing and aahing over Alice's illustrious pedigree and schmoozing her all-too-willing mother.
Liaisons ensue — some adorable, others unpersuasively dangerous — until all parties come to the realization that they can mature into one big, happy alterna-family, chowing down in a gleaming kitchen that is surely an outtake from the set of Mother Meyers' It's Complicated.
So there's a midlife crisis and a cougar thing of sorts and a single-parent thing, well-worn territory that might still be made human and thoughtful, as Nancy Meyers did for the dilemmas of aging early boomers with Something's Gotta Give and It's Complicated: romantic comedies at once glib, washed with privilege and somehow true.
Meyers-Shyer slavishly copies those movies' sun-washed Southern California style, but her technique is stuck in early film school. John Debney's score ranges from bubbly to pure syrup. The movie's one great line of dialogue, delivered in Bergen's splendid baritone, goes to Grandma, who wants everyone to stop carrying on about the sins of her deceased husband: "Because I'm a big girl, and he's gone, and I won." The acting is stiff as a board: Dimpled Pico Alexander is even more annoying than he is meant to be as Alice's smirky love interest, and talented Nat Wolff spins his wheels as a young would-be producer.
Less a story than a collection of awkwardly mounted run-throughs building toward amiable foregone conclusions, Home Again chugs home huffing and puffing about the difficulties of breaking into Hollywood when you're young and talented. That is certainly true for many. For Meyers-Shyer, it wasn't nearly hard enough.