In interviews and press materials, the team behind Home Again keeps referring to the film as a “modern romantic comedy.” It’s a notably strange description for a film that not only could fit in the 1990s, but feels like it belongs there. And not entirely in a good way.
That characterization isn’t a dig by it’s nature: there’s a very good argument to be made that the most recent golden age of romantic comedy in film hit its peak in the 1990s: Sleepless in Seattle, Four Weddings and a Funeral, While You Were Sleeping, 10 Things I Hate About You – and so on and so on. As romantic comedy goes, the idea that Home Again could fit into another era could be considered a strength.
Take the plot, which will feel familiar in a comfort food kind of way: Alice is a recently separated mom, who meets a younger guy while she’s out for her 40th birthday. He spends the night, along with his brother and his friend– but not in a kinky way, since the movie’s only PG-13. Through a little meddling by Alice’s mom (Candice Bergen), the three guys end up moving into Alice’s guesthouse because they’re also broke aspiring filmmakers. Things get complicated in that familiar “oh, I think I saw that one at Blockbuster” 90s rom-com way: cute kids, low-stakes antics mixed with heartfelt moments, and a cool handsome ex who may or may not have really changed (Michael Sheen).
It makes sense that the beats feel familiar, since Nancy Meyers produced the film, and her daughter Hallie Meyers-Shyer is the writer/director. This is her first feature, and although there are a few cries of nepotism out there, it’s worth noting that the film is independently produced on a relatively low budget. Untested white dudes get piles of money to make way higher-profile movies all the time, so let’s not bother with all of that.
Within this genre, though, maybe we should take a minute to think about our expectations and whether it’s reasonable to calibrate them. Truth be told, the mechanics, direction, and production of Home Again are all perfectly fine. The acting ranges from adequate to pretty good to genuinely funny; in one scene, when Witherspoon is drunk on a terrible date, she behaves exactly the way we’ve all wished we had behaved at least once while on a terrible date. All of that adds up to a movie that’s entertaining enough and charming enough. It’s worth considering whether that’s as much as we can ask of a movie in a genre where talented people have almost no hope of getting studio investment to make money or awards recognition to gain prestige.
So if it were 1992, I might give a pretty good review to Home Again: “It’s not as funny or as raunchy as When Harry Met Sally, but it’s sweet and fun and might be worth the matinee price on a rainy afternoon.”
Except it’s not 1992. It’s 2017. And somewhere along the line, the team behind this “modern” romantic comedy forgot that in 2017, a film with no LGBTQ characters and essentially no people of color is going to feel incredibly archaic. The predictable plot beats aren’t the only thing that make Home Again feel like it could have been made 25 years ago: I can’t figure out how it didn’t occur to anyone that a movie set in Los Angeles in 2017 should maybe include someone other then white, cis, heterosexual people. We should have been making inclusive movies in the 90s too, of course, and we still have plenty of work to do, but honestly, how do you even find that many white extras?
And this is where the “modern” label comes back to haunt the Home Again team. Because “modern” romantic comedies are actually a real thing. I’ve seen three films this year categorized as romantic comedies that are doing far more interesting things than Home Again: The Wedding Plan, Their Finest, and The Big Sick all have far more innovative takes on both romance and storytelling, even if one of those is even set during World War II. An age gap between your hero and heroine is not enough to make you relevant among the actually modern comedies and romances coming out this year.
There’s a difference between being nostalgic and being stuck in the past, and Home Again illustrates it well. Even with a script that was less than spectacular, the film could have succeeded in capturing the charm of movies from another era, setting viewers in a comfortable space with a pretty kitchen and cozy story. But in 2017, the glaring homogeneity of Home Again feels tone deaf in a way that supersedes any nostalgic charm.