“How the heck did this get made?” you may be asking in the cinema with hand placed against your bored frumpy face. For Hollywood magician Nancy Meyers, it’s her simple trick of money, nepotism, and vacations written off as a movie.
Reese Witherspoon plays Alice Kinney, a single mother of two quirky daughters who have left from New York to Los Angeles after her separation with her music executive husband (Michael Sheen). And I don’t mean fish out of water, Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg (2010) Los Angeles. We’re talking the whole Hollywood bourgeois package, baby. Where tears can be spared when considering Alice and her kids have moved back into the cushy childhood home of their movie-star grandmother (Candice Bergen) and late, great, Academy Award winning grandfather (David Netto). And it’s his story, told in one brief scene, that’s more interesting than that of our own protagonist.
In an opening voiceover which plays over montaged black-and-white photos and home movies, Alice tells us of that globe-trotting deviant who married and divorced a number of his leading ladies, including Alice’s mother, only to find himself in an early grave.
What passes for Alice’s tragedy? She’s 40-years-old (that’s 80 in Hollywood years) and struggling to make it in her freelance interior decorator career which earns an income in the tens of thousands. With Witherspoon being so nice, in fact, she allows three filmmakers she seduces (Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky and Nat Wolff) to stay at her house while they give her all the free day-care, tech service and sex she wants.
Somewhere along the way we’re meant to empathise with all this.
Written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer, the daughter of the film’s producer Nancy Meyers, we’re taken on an exercise in believability. How believable is it, if that personal entanglement was not a reality, that a feature debut with this basic a screenplay would get off the ground at a $30M budget? How believable is this story, which I aptly call “Mary Sue’s Masturbatory Fantasy Boredom Land”, could even take place in some reality for someone somewhere? In the head of Meyers-Shyer, greek tragedy for the modern day is alive and well. For us, we’re left with these untitillating, nonsensical passages from the Qu’ran of Menopause.
Sorry, forty-somethings who could have used a film like this as a cuddle-up at night escapism flick. The actors are just given nothing to work with. To the point, even the sex is sanitary.
It’s that uneventful and disconnected from its audience wants.
You can so clearly imagine this being inspired by events that could only happen in the context of being Nancy Meyers. Mother and daughter presenting their film like a bland advertisement for soap that had me searching online for shots that didn’t look the same as the last. I failed, and I am sorry, audience. Forgive me. You can blame cinematographer Dean Cundey of Jurassic Park (1993) and Back to the Future (1985) fame for such a disappointing outing. Sparing some of the firecracker moments that show Reese Witherspoon’s adorable talent, as well as some smooth moment-to-moment montage editing from The Onion Movie’s (2008) David Bilow, which made the experience less mundane.
This is the prime example of why we must reject films that were not made on their own merit. The industry is filled with too many struggling, talented artists to take another tired product of nepotism as the norm.
In my best Witherspoon accent, I just say this: Y’all could have done better.
Producer Nancy Meyers, mother of writer/director Hallie Meyers-Sheyer, originally offered Witherspoon the lead in The Intern, which she turned down. Meyers played a big role in getting this script in Witherspoon’s hands.