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HOME AGAIN: COMEDY IN THE COMFORT ZONE

Critics are gunning for first-time writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer. They’ve often attacked her mother, Nancy Meyers, for making highly-polished romantic comedies with good-looking actors who live in even better-looking houses (Something’s Gotta Give, It’s Complicated, et al). Meyers-Shyer has stayed in that comfort zone with her mother as producer, but she has a not-so-secret weapon in her arsenal: leading lady Reese Witherspoon, who is immensely likable in Home Again.

In the film, Witherspoon’s late father was a famous moviemaker—a not-so-inside joke underscored by the casting of Candice Bergen as her mom. (We even see pictures of a young Bergen in the main-title montage). Now she’s a sharply funny grandmother to Witherspoon’s two daughters, and it’s fun to watch her tossing off one-liners; frankly, I wish she had more screen time.

Witherspoon has just broken up with her husband (Michael Sheen) and moved from New York to Los Angeles, where she doesn’t yet feel at home. Enter three young Hollywood filmmaker-wannabes (Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky, and Nat Wolff) who, through a bit of contrivance, find temporary living quarters in Witherspoon’s guest house and ingratiate themselves into her life, becoming a kind of extended family alongside her kids.

Credibility is not this movie’s strong suit, but it gets better as it goes along and has a sweetness and positivity that I found appealing. Cynics should note that I screened this for my class of 20-somethings at USC and they responded to every laugh-line in Meyers-Shyer’s screenplay.

Best of all, the tyro filmmaker offers an unexpected conclusion that young women should especially like. There aren’t many mainstream romantic comedies that feature a 40-year-old leading lady and—possible spoiler alert—grant her independence.

Rather than cite all the things this movie doesn’t have—raunchiness, ethnic diversity, an element of surprise—I’d like to compliment Meyers-Shyer for pulling off a somewhat old-fashioned Hollywood movie that chooses to swim against the tide of the moment. Surely there is room for this kind of film as well as the hit-or-miss “cutting-edge” comedies of 2017.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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