If you have been on Netflix recently, you will doubtless have been exposed to marketing for their newest rom-com, Your Place or Mine, starring Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blonde) and Ashton Kutcher (That ’70s Show). Harking back to the early 2000s, Witherspoon’s and Kutcher’s heyday, Your Place or Mine delivers an update that only increased my horror of being middle-aged, and parenthood.
Written and directed by Aline Brosh McKenna – whose other credits include rom-com staples: The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – the film struggles to reach the level of chemistry, charm, or emotional depth of any of her previous stories. It seems that, in the attempt to create another syrupy, feel-good success, the stakes of the plot have been reduced to a level that makes them almost negligible, making the whole film seem a little pointless.
The plot of the film concerns a house-swap between childhood best friends, 20 years after their first (and only) hookup. Debbie is treated to Peter’s soulless New York apartment, complete with huge glass windows and unused crockery – which represents his lack of home life. Meanwhile, Peter finds himself in Debbie’s garden paradise home and in the company of her 13-year-old son, Jack, who is the product of her now-ended marriage.
Jack, played by Wesley Kimmel (nepo-nephew of Jimmy Kimmel), makes a surprisingly un-annoying addition to this otherwise fairly traditional rom-com fare. His charming portrayal of an unusually sensitive pre-teen means that the film follows the development of three characters, not just two.
Witherspoon’s Debbie is the definition of “sexy earth-mom” complete with floral shirts, mom jeans, and a compulsive need to plant herbs on a window sill. Kutcher’s Peter, meanwhile, has (according to Debbie’s friend) “still got that tall, square-jawed, long eyelash vibe going on” dressed in his business suits as a big-shot marketing executive.
We quickly learn that Debbie needs to let go of the anxiety she feels about responsibility for her son, and that Peter needs to learn to commit in both his personal and professional life. There is a classic opposites-attract storyline at play.
I can also report the rom-com tropes of cute humour, an airport scene, and the phrase, “I am madly, deeply, overwhelmingly in love with you.” However, despite all these positive indicators, the film is unremittingly bland and lacking any real style or charisma.
It is not that the characters are not likable, just that there is no real jeopardy to insure our investment in the outcome of their relationship. The characters are linked throughout the feature by congenial facetime calls (and a split-screen effect that becomes increasingly grating) and clearly love and trust each other enough to be an item already.
When Debbie meets Peter’s stylish, millennial ex, Minka (Zoë Chao) she is entirely unthreatened and unconcerned. There is no insecurity- just gossipy drinks and sincere girl-to-girl bonding. Similarly, when Peter learns that Debbie has been sleeping with her eccentric gardener, he races off to the bar… for a San Pellegrino, and to turn down an old flame. Lovers of a tortured teen romance, dysfunctional duo or a crazed wedding crasher will be sorely disappointed by the film’s lack of emotional highs and lows.
Even the treatment of the characters’ lives’ works fails to elicit an emotional outburst. Debbie finds, reads, and nearly publishes Peter’s secret manuscript – his metaphorical “bun in the oven” – without being reprimanded or even feeling particularly guilty. Fears for Jake – her literal child – are allayed throughout the film by his self-proclaimed wish to break free, and Peter’s obvious care for him and attention to his best interests.
Any fears we (or the characters) have about publication, injury, exams, or allergic reactions are apparently unnecessary. This is, essentially, the film’s message: do not let fear stop you from living to your full potential. Have enough faith in yourself and others to reach for the things you genuinely want in life.
However, as tritely inspiring as this message is, it does not feel earned in a film where the audience is not allowed to feel any sense of risk or conflict from the get-go. It may be funny in a sweet way, and contain some decent songs and familiar faces, but this film is ultimately emotionally moderated to the point of boredom.
Your Place or Mine is available to watch on Netflix now.
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