Your Place Or Mine
Debbie (Reese Witherspoon) and Peter (Ashton Kutcher) have maintained a long distance friendship ever since a one night stand years ago. In the time since Debbie has become a single mother in LA, while Peter lives a more lonely, albeit wealthy, existence in New York as a marketing consultant, though he still harbours dreams of becoming a writer. When opportunity allows Debbie the chance to travel to New York to complete a college course, her need for a sitter for son Jack (Wesley Kimmel) leads to Debbie and Peter to swap homes for a week: into the bargain will come life-changing realisations.
Romantic comedies have two things that they have to do. As the term would indicate, they need to be romantic: they need to feature two people, or two couples or 50 couples in the case of Love Actually, finding attraction, love and a happily ever after (or the more popular recently “happy for now”) over the course of 90 or so minutes. In many ways, this is the easiest part of the equation, since the plot beats don’t really change all that much: from the decidedly smalshy Hallmark-type films all the way to something more visceral and edgy like Bridesmaids or Trainwreck, the guy and the girl (and it is usually a guy and a girl) meet, fall for each other, overcome obstacles and get to ride off into the sunset. The nature of the obstacles changes, the background of the players is a variable, but that’s the way it goes.
The trick is the “comedy” part. These films have to be funny, even if it is just for their intended demographic, whoever that is. They have to make you laugh, at the foibles, at the screw-ups, at the wacky supporting characters and in the way that two people just cant seem to get it right (until they inevitably do). And if the film isn’t funny, then it isn’t a rom-com, and if it isn’t a rom-com, then it’s just a romance, and if it just a romance, then it a pretty tired, boring story. Sometimes this occurs because the jokes aren’t great. Sometimes it occurs when there are no jokes at all, or at least none that land. Your Place Or Mine is the latter, and I hope you will excuse the lengthy intro because I have very little to otherwise say about this effort.
Like, this film does not seem to even try being funny. There are the character archetypes in place, the wacky (or rather potentially wacky) supporting characters too and plenty of set-ups where there should be humour (Debbie’s kid wants to play ice hockey! Peter’s ex shows Debbie New York at night! There’s a craaaaazy neighbour!). But the humour never comes. At times you’re watching the film wondering if you’re missing something intrinsic: where are the jokes? Where is the set-up and the punchline? Give me a fart joke for God sakes, anything. Instead its dour scenes where Peter tries to consult his way through substitute parenting and Debbie breezes through New York like she is Carrie Bradshaw, or Tig Notoro delivering bland one-liners like she wants to be anywhere else (unlike We Have A Ghost it seems more like she’s uninterested than flailing in this one).
Instead Your Place Or Mine prefers to spend time on these ridiculously tortured long-distance relationship that sets in motion the titular house swap. Basically Debbie and Peter are star-crossed, owing to a brief fling years and years ago, but their own neurosis have repeatedly gotten in the way. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, some of it is even clever. But it’s not the kind of thing that works in a comedy-less rom-com. Debbie having to learn to be more hands-off as a mother or Peter having a book he is scared to bring to a publisher can be both avenues for character growth and comedy set-ups, but Your Place Or Mine needs to find scope for both, not just one: in choosing just one and just kind of hoping that laughs will come, it all falls down.
If you ain’t laughing, then just what exactly is the point? Your Place Or Mine seems to me a very lazy way to approach the fact that two very bankable stars were onboard, both with oodles of experience in the genre: they just either forgot or didn’t think to write any actual comedy for them. Director Aline Brosh McKenna has plenty of experiencing writing romantic comedy for TV and the big screen, but this is her first film directorial outing, and maybe that was one of the problems. Instead of what it should be it’s a dour romance dressed up as a comedy, and that just isn’t gong to fly, zany neighbour or no zany neighbour. Even the sight of them getting together at the end isn’t going to do it for you. Not recommended.
(All images are copyright of Netflix).