“Home Again,” a lifestyle comedy with a soupçon of pain, stars Reese Witherspoon as a perky Los Angeles mother of two coping with a perky divorce and perky career problems (let’s pause and take a breath before we get to her perky love life). It’s the first feature written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer, whose last name alone sounds like the opening credits of two dozen comedies: Her mother is Nancy Meyers, director of “The Parent Trap,” “Something’s Gotta Give,” “It’s Complicated” and “The Intern,” and her father is Charles Shyer, director of “Baby Boom,” “Father of the Bride” and “Father of the Bride II.” (The couple, who divorced in 1999, collaborated as writers and/or producers on a number of other features, including “Private Benjamin.”)
Depending on your point of view, that pedigree will mean one of two things: Hallie Meyers-Shyer was put on earth to make contemporary Hollywood screwball comedies — or she was put on earth to make glib, pat, overly cozy and superficial contemporary Hollywood screwball comedies. “Home Again” nudges you toward the latter scenario, but who knows? I had limited patience for the original Meyers-Shyer team (though “Baby Boom” remains one of life’s so-cheesy-it’s-irresistible guilty pleasures), yet once Nancy Meyers went out on her own, she became a wittier and more nimble filmmaker. So maybe Hallie Meyers-Shyer will follow in her footsteps and improve. Right now, she’s got nowhere to go but up.
Here’s a way that she needs to improve. It’s OK, in rough economic times, to make a movie about upper-middle-class people who are cushioned from the anxieties that afflict so many of us, but it seems more than a trifle obnoxious to tell a story that unfolds in a bubble of Hollywood privilege and to present it as if it were something that everyone could relate to.
Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), who’d been raising her family in New York, has just separated from her husband, played by Michael Sheen as the world’s nicest cutthroat music-industry executive (the two get along like besties). To cushion the blow, she has moved back to the sprawling L.A. bungalow where she grew up with her famous, charming and philandering filmmaker dad, John Kinney (David Netto), who is now deceased (we see him in adoring flashback), and her mother, Lilian (Candice Bergen), who has taken her in.
Alice seems pretty upbeat for someone who’s in the middle of a marital meltdown, facing the prospect of raising two kids mostly by herself, and it doesn’t take long to see why. Despite her situation, she has no economic worries! She comes from Hollywood royalty, and she has returned to the moneyed bosom of her childhood home, where she attempts to launch a career as a freelance interior decorator. (This part of the film plays like “Curb Your Enthusiasm” without irony.) Then she meets a dude — but even here, it’s really all about her dad.
Harry (Pico Alexander), who’s 27 but looks 23, is an aspiring director who has come to L.A. with his two buddy collaborators: George (Jon Rudnitsky), a screenwriter; and Teddy (Nat Wolff), an aspiring movie star. The three made a short that wowed the indie world (from the clips of it, it almost looks like Meyers-Shyer based it on “Queens Boulevard,” the Sundance film that was Vincent Chase’s stab at indie integrity on “Entourage”), and now they plan to expand it into a feature. They meet slimy agents who love them, a note-giving corrupt horror producer who loves them, and other cardboard Tinseltown deplorables. But at a bar, Harry meets Alice, and the sparks fly. The best way to describe their relationship might be as mildly inappropriate but cuddly.
They start dating — sort of. But more than that, Alice agrees to let Harry and his partners move into her guest house, because … why not? After all, it’s not as if her kids, her divorce, and her new career are keeping her busy. When George, the screenwriter, stumbles into her dad’s old study, jammed with movie posters and film reels, he acts as if he’d just learned that her father was Orson Welles. (Really? Making commercial American comedies in the late 1970s?) And when Harry tells Alice’s mother that he himself is a filmmaker, and Bergen puts a dry spin on the line “Everybody is! We’re in L.A.,” Harry shoots her a look that says, Yes, but our film is in black-and-white! The three dudes are portrayed as millennial saints who become Alice’s pals, neighbors, chauffeurs, and babysitters, as the movie seeks to turn itself into a sitcom called “Four’s Company.”
“Home Again” really does have the look and feel of an early-period Meyers-Shyer product: the overly bright lighting and soft zingers, the feel-good conceits that get piled on top of each other. But it’s also a little tone-deaf. (At one point, Michael Sheen’s character is described as “Clark Gable meets Sean Penn.”) There’s a fist fight, a reckoning, and a Moral Quandary: Is George betraying his partners by going off to write a screenplay on his own? (Uh, no.) What there isn’t much evidence of is genuine experience: of life, or of filmmaking. Hallie Meyers-Shyer is trying to be a chip off two old blocks, but next time she’d be better off working less close to home.