When critics refer to films as “chick flicks” — the blatantly derogatory term used to describe romantic comedies — they do so as their way of diminishing these stories. For some reason, this typically female-driven genre warrants little respect from Hollywood, despite the fact that so many rom-com films go on to become classics.
Simply observe the average box office selection to recognize major studios prefer films that will generate big bucks during their opening weekend. Said films are often forgettable, and rarely withstand the test of time, but longevity isn’t necessary as long as the theaters are packed. Thankfully, however, every now and then, one of these supposedly sappy “flicks” slips through the cracks, providing audiences with an opportunity to escape the deluge of superhero sequels and lose themselves in the intoxicating drama of someone else’s love life.
“Home Again” jumps right into the middle of the story by introducing us to Alice (played by Reese Witherspoon), the newly separated mother-of-two on her 40th birthday. While questioning her move back to L.A. and what the future holds in store during this milestone year, Alice soon finds herself living with three young men who are determined to break into the film industry. Alice, her daughters, and the men—Harry, Teddy, and George—soon form an unexpected bond, creating an extended family filled with more love and support than those formed by blood.
With the film’s unconventional premise in place, writer and director Hallie Meyers-Shyer was free to build characters that are both endearing and multi-dimensional. Meyers-Shyer also disregards the usual tropes and trappings of basic rom-coms, incorporating elements rarely found throughout the genre.
Alice’s relationship with Harry, for instance—a man more than 10 years her junior—turns the tables by acknowledging the age dynamic and flipping it on its head. Like men who date women outside their basic demographic, Alice was unapologetic and alive. Contrary to the stereotype, Alice wasn’t some sort of cougar out for young blood. She was genuinely attracted to Harry and she acted upon her impulses, as people often do. Meyers-Shyer paid special attention to the human element that drives all sorts of relationships, and seamlessly threaded the emotions and behaviors into every nook and cranny.
Beyond the sexual tension and romantic relationship between Alice and Harry (played by Pico Alexander), George’s bond with Isabel (played by Lola Flanery), Alice’s eldest daughter, exceeds expectations, as its innocence and simplicity truly captures the family element at the heart of this film. George (played by Jon Rudnitsky) isn’t the type of man we often see in such movies, but he offers a refreshing glimpse into the very sort of man every woman would love to know.
Best of all, Meyers-Shyer doesn’t play down to her audience by manufacturing some forced happy ending. Alice and Harry do not magically reunite, and she ultimately asks her husband for a divorce—two factors that, in any other scenario, might lead to disappointment. But, when everyone gathers for dinner at the end, one can’t help but be slightly jealous.
Meyers-Shyer has set the precedent for a new kind of family and a new kind of rom-com. And, while she’s the offspring of the genre’s two most notable veterans, Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer, it’s her own creative instinct that produced one of the best films of 2017 overall. What once seemed like a dying genre, rom-coms now have someone to birth the next generation of classic films.
Hollywood needs to invest more money in storytelling. Spectacle can only sustain the industry for so long, but stories, especially those written by women about women, never lose their appeal. Stories that honestly tap into the human experience reach beyond the generational divide, which begets the longevity that defines classic cinema. With Meyer-Shyer’s innate ability to create nuanced characters that speak to people at all stages of life, “Home Again” will surely be just the first film in an ever-growing catalog for the new director.
(This post originally appeared on Storia.)