ALICE Kinney (Reese Witherspoon) is doing it tough, but not nearly as tough as your average single mum.
Leaving her emotionally arrested record producer husband (Michael Sheen) behind in New York, the recently separated 40-year-old has relocated to her late father's bougainvillea-covered bungalow in Los Angeles.
It's a place of happy memories - Alice's dad might have been a serial womaniser, but her place in his affections was never in doubt - and priceless memorabilia.
A '70s film director of considerable note, John Kinney has left behind a room full of posters, screenplays and film prints. There's even a golden Oscar statuette.
Alice might be in the midst of a midlife crisis, but at least she doesn't have to worry about putting food on the table or keeping a roof over her children's heads.
Which is probably why she is so taken aback by the entitled behaviour of Lake Bell's obnoxious socialite when the latter hires Alice for her first interior design job (the latest hobby she's decided to turn into a profession.)
You get the sense that Alice has never actually had to earn a living.
And here we come to the first in a string of narrative hooks the filmmakers squeamishly fail to bait.
Alice seems to have grown up in the shadow, first of her famous father, and then of her egotistical mate.
But in this buffed and polished version of a midlife coming-of-age story, writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer (daughter to It's Complicated's Nancy Myers and Father Of the Bride's Charles Shyer) is far too polite to ask such awkward questions.
Alice's Graduate-style affair with a much younger director named Harry (Pico Alexander) is similarly neutered.
"Did you have a sleepover?" asks one of Alice's daughters when she arrives home, unexpectedly, with her former actress Grandma (Candice Bergen).
And that's just what it feels like.
Alice meets Harry while celebrating her 40th birthday with a bunch of girlfriends.
After an uncharacteristically wild night on the town, he and his buddies wind up at her place.
Sweet, charming and homeless, she reluctantly agrees to let the would-be filmmakers stay in her unoccupied guest house.
Almost overnight, they become a functional extended family unit.
And this is where the filmmakers really test our credulity.
The twenty-something "artists" - director (Alexander), writer (Jon Rudnitsky) and actor (Nat Wolff) - cook dinner, fix cupboards, run errands and chauffeur Alice's children about without prompting, ulterior motives or a roster. (Meyers-Shyer has obviously never lived in a shared house.)
Each of the young men is also a little bit smitten by Alice, who is more Martha Stewart than Mrs Robinson.
Meyers-Shyer needs to get out of her Hollywood bubble more. These characters exist in some kind of surreal sitcom world.
Witherspoon, so good in her passion project Wild, mugs it mercilessly for the camera. It's as if she, too, is wrong-footed by the lack of canned laughter.
Home Again opens on Thursday.
Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Michael Sheen and Nat Wolff.
Director: Hallie Meyers-Shyer
Verdict: 2 stars
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