Reese Witherspoon could probably have phoned in her performance in this romantic comedy about a woman with two precocious daughters trying to make a new start in life as an interior decorator as she approaches the big four-oh.
It won’t tax your brain unduly but if you like Witherspoon, who tends to hoover up the kind of roles Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan used to have handed to them almost by rote, it will while away 90 minutes for you without too much metal fatigue.
She plays Alice Finney, a woman recently divorced from her rock promoter husband Austen (Michael Sheen). Austen was married to his job rather than to Alice so she’s better off without him.
She moves from New York back to the home in which she grew up in L.A. On a night out to celebrate (mourn?) her 40th birthday she meets three novice film-makers who’ve just been evicted from their living quarters. Under the influence of a tad too much alcohol she invites them back with her and ends up becoming romantically involved with one of them, Harry (Alexander Pico).
When her movie siren mother (Candice Bergen) suggests they stay in her guest house – this is a well-heeled family, you’ll have deduced by now - the stage is set for some screwball scenarios.
Just when you’re thinking it should have been called Three Men and a Babe, Austen turns up looking crestfallen and begging Alice to take him back. He’s a pain in the neck so this seems unlikely, even if Harry looks young enough to be her son. (He’s 13 years her junior.)
Hallie Meyers-Shyer directs. She’s the daughter of Nancy (Something’s Got to Give) Meyers and Charles (Baby Boom) Shyer. With that kind of pedigree, what else was she going to do with her life? It’s laced with film references. Alice’s dead father was also a director. You can see where Hallie got her inspiration – if that’s the word.
It plays out like the left luggage of a hundred similar films you’ve already seen, some of them produced by Hallie’s illustrious parents. Notwithstanding the nepotism, with Witherspoon at the helm it manages to maintain a modicum of watchability. She does a neat line in ditziness combined with determination. “A fawn crossed with a Buick” as Jack Nicholson once said of Jessica Lange.
Because we’re talking single mothers and May-September romances, the film makes some noises about ageism and sexism in between the user-friendly new age family set-ups. These come at you in such a tame manner you hardly notice. As Kenneth Tynan might say, the film shakes its anger at us like a tiny fist.
It’s a glossy confection that reminds you of a beautiful box of chocolates – without the chocolates. Bergen playing a faded movie queen sounds very much like typecasting but she does it with the elegance we’ve come to expect from her. Was Meryl Streep not free that week?