Synopsis: Two long-distance best friends change each other’s lives when she decides to pursue a lifelong dream and he volunteers to keep an eye on her teenage son.
Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Ashton Kutcher, Wesley Kimmel, Jesse Williams, Zoë Chao, Steve Zahn, Tig Notaro, Griffin Matthews, Rachel Bloom, Shiri Appleby, Vella Lovell
Director: Aline Brosh McKenna
Running Length: 109 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: Be honest. When you hear that Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher are starring in a romantic comedy together, you squinted your eyes a bit and thought, “Really? Those two?” This is no knock on the talent of either Hollywood A-lister because both have demonstrated their talent throughout their decades in the industry. She’s an Oscar-winner and multi-hyphenate producer/mogul that is as good at finding material for others as she is for herself. He’s now known as much for his philanthropy as he is for his acting and less for the personal relationships that were the stuff of tabloid fodder.
Paired in a Netflix rom-com, though? It’s weird, right? Some stars you can picture teaming up and watching sparks fly, while others you could imagine joining forces to bring down a smarmy water company with expert legalese. In their new film, Your Place or Mine, premiering on Netflix on February 10, I regret to inform you that Witherspoon and Kutcher share some of the most awkward screen chemistry I’ve seen in some time. With the same breath, I’m going to say that they are together so little in what is otherwise a delightful film that it hardly matters. The charm quotient boasted by both stars is through the roof, more than making up for the lack of heat, which winds up being beside the point.
Sharing a one-night stand twenty years ago helped Debbie (Witherspoon, Home Again) and Peter (Kutcher, Vengeance) realize they are better off as friends. Through stints in rehab, divorce, death, single-parenthood, jobs, etc., they have always been there for one another. Now living on separate costs, California-based Debbie is a helicopter mom to son Jack (Wesley Kimmel, yes, Jimmy’s nephew) and has long since put her dreams of becoming an editor on hold. A successful corporate fixer in NYC, Peter has little responsibility or accountability in his life, making it easier for him to fly out to CA and watch Jack while Debbie stays at his luxe condo to complete a necessary certification for her job.
Of course, swapping homes necessitates a somewhat swapping of lives, so Peter gets a taste of what it means to be a parent (in the general, Hollywood one-week, low-impact sort of way), and Debbie sees only the best parts of NYC where there is not a single item of garbage on the street. She’s quickly taken under the wing of Peter’s ex, Minka (a droll Zoë Chao, Where’d You Go, Bernadette), who introduces her not only to sophisticated Big Apple nightlife but a handsome editor (Jesse Williams, The Cabin in the Woods) she makes an instant connection with. As Debbie gets closer to her editor, Peter realizes his feelings for Debbie have always been more than he’s willing to admit, but he’s been afraid to lose his friend. Is it too late to make up for the last two decades?
Having been the screenwriter for works like 27 Dresses, The Devil Wears Prada, Laws of Attraction, and Morning Glory, writer/director Aline Brosh McKenna knows her way around the rules and regulations of Romantic Comedy 101 and, thankfully, steers clear of the pitfalls that can trip up lesser efforts. For one, gender roles are handily swapped but without any significant pains in the process. Instead of the woman being the one to bend over backward to help her male friend, the male is the one making the most sacrifices and starts his emotional journey first. There’s little of the loud shenanigans that turn a rom-com into a headache. McKenna doesn’t need to fill the film with laugh-out-loud moments to find the funny. Even a potential annoyance (Debbie’s Zen neighbor named, uh, Zen, played by Steven Zahn, 8-Bit Christmas) is handled gently.
That brings us back to that whole chemistry thing we were talking about. It’s not a spoiler to say that Witherspoon and Kutcher have little screen time together. It’s the nature of the film. Both have a good command of their segments, and I liked each of their confidants (Chao for Witherspoon, Tig Notaro, Together Together for Kutcher). Still, I was less enamored anytime the focus drifted to Kutcher’s character attempting to father this child he knew little about. That there is little resolution on this makes it even more phony feeling.
Above all else, Your Place or Mine brings out the best in both stars, and, let me repeat it, they are so undeniably charming that you are willing to forgive anything that might otherwise be missing between them. It’s a harmless, uncomplicated evening’s worth of entertainment with the right amount of laughs and heart not to overstay its welcome.