Producers: Jason Bateman, Michael Costigan, Reese Witherspoon, Lauren Neustadter and Aline Brosh McKenna Director: Aline Brosh McKenna Screenplay: Aline Brosh McKenna Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Ashton Kutcher, Jesse Williams, Zoë Chao, Wesley Kimmel, Griffin Matthews, Rachel Bloom, Shiri Appleby, Vella Lovell, Tanner Swagger, Mystic Inscho, Tig Notaro and Steve Zahn Distributor: Netflix
Romantic comedies are hard to pull off; the ones that last are few and far between. This Netflix offering is blessed with likable stars in Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher, and a strong supporting cast; it looks good, with a spiffy production design by William Arnold and glitzy cinematography by Florian Ballhaus; it’s got a bouncy score from Siddhartha Khosla; and it’s written by Aline Brosh McKenna, who’s had a long, if not particularly distinguished, career in the genre, and is here making her feature directorial debut as well. But “Your Place or Mine” is a flat, predictable piece of work, coming off like a mediocre two-hour sitcom that doesn’t even have a laugh track to remind you that it’s meant to be funny.
Witherspoon and Kutcher play Debbie Dunn and Peter Coleman, who had a one-night stand in California in 2003 but then became just very good friends. She married a handsome mountain-climbing adventurer with whom she had a son, Jack; but they split up, leaving her a single mom working in public school administration. Peter moved to New York City, becoming a successful brand management consultant. They talk by phone all the time, supposedly telling one another everything about their lives—hers practical and completely devoted to her now thirteen-year old son (Wesley Kimmel), and his freewheeling, the writing hopes he once harbored abandoned in favor of high living and constant womanizing. Though they’re very different, their jocular bickering shows they’re clearly BFFs (and clearly meant for each other).
These two obviously can’t stay apart for another twenty years if the picture’s preordained destination is to be reached, so McKenna resorts to the old trading-places scenario. When Debbie’s plans to come to New York to complete a degree in accounting fall through because the ditzy friend who’s supposed to mind Jack bails, Peter decides to fly to L.A. and mind the kid while Debbie takes over his place.
With the coasts exchanged, each buddy changes the other’s life. Debbie is shown the typescript of Peter’s long-unpublished novel by his wackily helpful ex-girlfriend Minka (Zoë Chao); happily she’s just met her favorite boutique publisher Theo Martin (Jesse Williams), and gets him to read the manuscript, which they both adore. (Theo also serves as a possible romantic pairing for her, but that’s obviously a doomed plot thread.)
Meanwhile Peter bonds with Jack by allowing the kid to do stuff his over-protective mother won’t. He lets the boy watch scary movies and eat forbidden food (though, happily, not the nuts to which Jack is allergic). Most importantly, he encourages Jack to try out for the school hockey team, at which the kid proves amazing, earning the admiration of the arrogant classmates (Tanner Swagger and Mystic Inscho) he’s dreamed of having as friends. Of course, that will prove a cause of friction between Debbie and Peter. Will they be able to overcome it? And will they reconcile in a meeting at LAX? Have you ever seen a romcom before?
It should be mentioned that Peter will have other folks besides Kimmel (who looks a lot like the young Corey Feldman) to share unfunny banter with in California. One is Tig Notaro, who plays Alicia, Debbie’s sharp-tongued, and of course queer, campus colleague. Another is Steve Zahn as Zen, Debbie’s zonked-out neighbor, who also insists on being her gardener. Notaro is winning with her deadpan, cynical delivery. On te other hand Zahn, usually a reliable farceur, is excruciating in a poorly-written role he tries desperately to bring to life with bits of exaggerated comic business.
As for Witherspoon and Kutcher, they’re agreeable enough, but the script gives them characters that are little more than sketches, and third-rate banter that affords few laughs. They’re hardly helped by McKenna’s lackadaisical direction or Chris A. Peterson’s editing, which drags the slight piece out to nearly two hours.
Your place should probably host “Your Place or Mine” only if your appetite for romantic comedies is insatiable.