Reese Witherspoon is so likeable that she can carry even the most hackneyed of romantic comedies. And indeed, that’s what she’s doing here. There’s a nice sense of messiness in the plot of this rather silly film, but it’s directed with so much sun-drenched perfection that everything feels fake. First world problems abound here: these people simply don’t seem to realise how very privileged their lives are.
Of course it’s set in Los Angeles, where Alice (Witherspoon) has returned after leaving her music producer husband Austen (Michael Sheen) in New York. She’s now living in her late filmmaker father’s spectacular house with her two bright daughters (Lola Flanery and Eden Grace Redfield), as all three of them try to start over with their lives and find a new sense of balance. Out celebrating her 40th birthday, Alice meets 27-year-old Harry (Pico Alexander), and she responds to his shameless flirtation. As he and his aspiring filmmaker friends George and Teddy (Jon Rudnitsky and Nat Wolff) move into Alice’s guesthouse, Austen gets jealous and flies in from New York.
Nothing quite rings true about this entire set-up. And it doesn’t help that Witherspoon basically looks younger than Alexander, even as the script centres obsessively on their 13-year age difference, as if anyone under 30 couldn’t possibly be mature enough to relate to someone who’s 40 (writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer is 30). This idiotic idea is relentlessly pushed at the audience all the way through the movie, and it undermines all of the film’s goofy side-plots, which include more romantic confusion, the boys’ ludicrously lucky attempts to break into filmmaking, and lingering feelings between Alice and Austen. Through all of this, Witherspoon still manages to make Alice a likeable, strong woman who is taking control of her life. But it’s clear that everything about that life is utterly amazing, even in the middle of the film’s contrived chaos.
Oddly, Alexander’s Harry is the blandest of the three guys living in her house. Rudnitsky’s screenwriter actually connects with Alice on a more interesting level, but the script never goes there. It also wastes Lake Bell in a screwball role as Alice’s first interior design client. Much more effective is Candice Bergen‘s appearance as Alice’s no-nonsense mother, and both she and Sheen add some oomph to the otherwise flimsy plot. So while the dialog is loaded with naive advice and the overall narrative is painfully predictable, there are at least little touches that will keep genre fans entertained.