Reese Witherspoon’s latest comedy, “Home Again,” opens with a voice-over segment in which her character details her cheerily idiosyncratic experience growing up as the child of a Hollywood couple. The flashback might seem curiously elaborate, unless you know going in that the movie’s writer-director, Hallie Meyers-Shyer, is the daughter of onetime husband-and-wife filmmakers Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers (“Baby Boom,” 1991’s “Father of the Bride”).
Home “again”? It seems that first-timer Meyers-Shyer isn’t setting so much as a piggy toe beyond familiar territory, and this listless rom-com shows it.
Witherspoon’s Alice is having a little trouble figuring it all out these days. She’s recently separated from her self-absorbed record-exec husband (Michael Sheen). She’s still adjusting to a move cross-country with their two young daughters (Lola Flanery, Eden Grace Redfield) back to her late auteur father’s place in Los Angeles. And she’s — gasp! — 40. All of which somehow makes her receptive to offering her guest house to a trio of twenty-something showbiz hopefuls: Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky), and Teddy (Nat Wolff). Or, as one of Alice’s gal pals shorthands their respective underscripted Entouragers: sex, live-in child care, and tech support.
Actually, pragmatic Alice does balk initially, but her mom (Candice Bergen) presses her: “Be a patron of the arts — it’s good for the soul!” Bergen’s breezy delivery of this nonsensical bit of sitcom rationale instantly takes us back. (She takes us back still further with her meta presence as a young model-actress in vintage images sampled in the opener.) The movie’s half-baked aspect soon catches up with it, though, as earnest relationships spun from its wacky premise fail to resonate.
Witherspoon musters her familiar sweetness in trying to sell her May-December scenes with hunky Harry, but we’re just not buying. Convenient, too, how Alice’s girls vanish for chunks of screen time to reduce the unacknowledged ick factor of all the adult-sleepover shenanigans.
It’s much more satisfying watching Witherspoon and Sheen’s estranged couple fall into comfortable marital rhythms and ponder reconciliation over late-night leftovers — the cast’s featured, established players convincingly doing their thing. Yet Meyers-Shyer and the gang also fumble can’t-miss scenes such as one in which interior decorator Alice (of course she is) drunkenly tells off an impossible client (Lake Bell, usually funnier). It’s disappointingly flavorless comedy from a filmmaker who might have delivered something more subversive, and turned any sniping about nepotism into buzz about her future.
Written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Pico Alexander, Michael Sheen, Jon Rudnitsky, Nat Wolff. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 97 minutes. PG-13 (some thematic and sexual material).Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.