Friday, September 8, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Charm Rules

Jon Rudnitsky, Pico Alexander, Hallie Meyers-Shyer, Reese Witherspoon, Candice Bergen, and Dolly Wells at the afterparty for Cinema Society's screening of "Home Again."
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Charm Rules in Reese Witherspoon's "Home Again."

“CHARM ... if you have it, you don't need to have anything else; and if you don't have it, it doesn't much matter what else you have,” said J.M. Barrie.

Barrie, who created the character of Peter Pan, was speaking about the charm of a woman.  But his quote can apply to almost anything that has charm — like a movie, for example. 

I recalled Barrie’s dictum while a screening audience for “Home Again” erupted into vociferous applause as the end credits on Reese Witherspoon’s new romantic comedy scrolled down. 
J.M Barrie and Michael Llewelyn Davis, who along with his four brothers was the inspiration for Peter Pan.
Andrew Saffir’s Cinema Society, Elizabeth Arden and Lindt Chocolate hosted the event at the Paley Center on West 52nd Street.  When the crowd spilled out on the street, the weather had turned nasty, but everybody languidly unfurled umbrellas or calmly dialed for an Uber.  Nothing could shake the good vibes that “Home Again” seemed to generate. 

To be honest, 25 years from now, when Reese Witherspoon is picking up some lifetime achievement award, the powers behind her honor will not be thinking of “Home Again.”  It’ll be memories of “Election” or “Legally Blonde,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Vanity Fair,” “Walk the Line,” “Mud,” “Big Little Lies” and what she’ll do that she hasn’t done yet.   But Witherspoon’s fans, I think will hold this current film dear. 
Reese Witherspoon in "Home Again."
This is an absurdly delightful offering — the directorial debut of Hallie Meyers-Shyer.   I see that some curmudgeonly critics are already beating up on it.  Please don’t you be curmudgeonly.

Is it a “great” example of the rom-com genre.  No.  Must you suspend disbelief many times along the way?  Yes.  So what?  Do comic book hero movies make sense?  “Home Again” gave me — and apparently a room full of jaded New Yorkers — a desperately needed respite from political discourse, ghastly natural disasters and the all-around general afflictions of real life.  What more can one expect from popular entertainment?
Hallie Meyers-Shyer on the set of "Home Again." Photo: Karen Ballard
The plot is simple.  Recently separated 40-year-old mother of two (Reese) has transplanted herself to Los Angeles.  She is at odds and ends emotionally and professionally.  Quicker than you can say, “I wouldn’t do that myself” Reese rather randomly invites three appealing young strangers to live with her and the kids.  They are an aspiring director (Pico Alexander), writer (Jon Rudnitsky) and an actor (Nat Wolff).  Everybody gets on like a house afire.  The kids (very tolerably played by Lola Flannery and Eden Grace Redfield) love the guests and Reese really loves — or likes a lot — Pico, who is 27 to her 40.  (In real life, Reese was 40 when she filmed this movie, but 40 is the new 29, and when her character initially expresses doubts about this younger man finding her attractive one can only laugh good-naturedly.  Witherspoon has maintained the ebullience and the flesh of her “Cruel Intentions” days.)
Reese and her young lover, played by Pico Alexander.
Also on hand is the divine Candice Bergen, who plays Reese’s ex-actress mother. You’ll recall she was Patrick Dempsey’s ice-queen mom in Reese’s “Sweet Home Alabama” who suffered a massive punch in the kisser from Reese at the end of that one.  Candice looks great and makes her every moment onscreen count. 

Michael Sheen also pops in as her almost ex.  He, too, is excellent, as fans of TV’s “Masters of Sex” already know.  But what impressed me most about Michael here, is his voluminous, thick, wavy hair, with just enough attractive gray creeping in.  It’s a mane with a life of its own! Samson would be envious.  It should have had a special credit, actually.
Candice Bergen as Reese’s ex-actress mother.
Reese’s ex (with great hair) played by Michael Sheen.
In the movie, complications arise — between Reese and her young lover, between Reese and her hubby, between the three guys, navigating their way through the shark-infested waters of show biz.   Was there one moment of genuine surprise among these little dramas?  Not really.  But everything is so genuinely felt, appealingly acted, beautifully photographed, that I for one, gave the need for originality 24/7 a pass.

There aren’t a hell of a lot of new ideas in this old world and the real task is to make something fresh out of a meal you’ve had many times. Director (and screenwriter) Hallie Meyers-Shyer and her bubbly cast do just that.
One of the producers of the film is director/producer Nancy Meyers of many acclaimed films.  And yes, she is the mother of Hallie.  I generally don’t like to link famous parents and their aspiring children, but in this case, since it is Hallie’s debut, I felt I’d be wrapped on the knuckles if I didn’t.  But, it’s the last time. Ms. Meyers-Shyer is her own singular, talented woman. 

And she has made an impressively entertaining beginning to what promises to be a long, successful career.
Hallie Meyers-Shyer and Reese Witherspoon at the afterparty at The Skylark.
THE PARTY after was at The Skylark on West 39th Street. Tasty edibles were passed around, Qui tequila cocktails were sloshed, and bowls of chocolate, courtesy of  Lindt were omnipresent.  Among the throng: Lea Delaria ... Peter Scolari ... Zac Posen ... Jill Rappaport ... Scott Gorenstein ... Sergio Kletnoy ... Linda Wells ... Nico Tortorella.

Reese Witherspoon, fetchingly encased in a short gold dress, charmingly accepted our compliments on the movie, and pretended, sweetly, to remember we’d interviewed her years ago as she publicized “Vanity Fair.”  However, she was genuinely pleased that we noted her sexy killer gold stilettos. 
Reese and her sexy killer gold stilettos.
Caught a few words with Pico Alexander; he was chatting up two statuesque lovelies who appeared to be presenting themselves to him as sisters or cousins. (I have a feeling he caught up with them later.)   Pico raved about Miss Witherspoon, and expressed happy nerves about his coming Broadway show, John Patrick Shanley’s “The Portuguese Kid,” with Jason Alexander. And he was up for our suggestion of a sequel.  He even titled it, “Home Again — Again!” 
Pico Alexander.
Another of Reese’s movie housemates, Jon Rudnitsky was also there.  He too couldn’t say enough good things about his lovely co-star and he too felt a sequel was a worthy idea.  But, he said, “Even if that didn’t happen, I like to think they all remained friends, and  stayed in each other’s lives.”   Jon — an “SNL” cast member since 2015 — was accompanied by a great-looking girl, an old school friend.  She was deeply tanned, and wore a white-pants-and-halter-neck outfit that harkened enticingly back to the 1970s.  I complimented her retro style and she beamed, “I was going for a kind of Halston, Studio 54 look!” 
Jon Rudnitsky.
She succeeded, and I had to laugh a bit.  This young woman was not even a glimmer in anybody’s eye when 54 ruled Manhattan. 

It’s nice when kids recall, with appreciation, your good old days!

Oh, the gift bags were stuffed with all sorts of youthifying goodies from Elizabeth Arden — my skin will be Restored, Protected, Renewed and Boosted.  Miss Witherspoon is the Face of Elizabeth Arden.  Hey, it seems to be working for her. 
Zac Posen.
Jill Rappaport. .Lea DeLaria.
Christine Schwarzman and Kalliope Karella.
Shoshanna Gruss.
Dolly Wells. Kelly Rutherford.
Oda Nordengen.

Photographs by Jared Siskin/PMC (Home Again)

Contact Liz here.