Reese Witherspoon was on a nice roll for a while.
"Big Little Lies" -- in which she not only starred but produced and, indeed, got off the ground -- was one of TV's best last year. "Wild" was a nice-sized movie hit. It wasn't much of a movie to some of us (among other things, Witherspoon was about half the size of Cheryl Strayed, whose book was adapted) but then we weren't exactly its, uh, "target audience" either.
She's almost always welcome on screens of any size at all.
Unfortunately, Hollywood physics aren't the same as Isaac Newton's. In Hollywood, a career in motion doesn't stay in motion; it's either waiting for its speed bump or the brick wall which will stop motion completely.
Witherspoon's speed bump is boringly titled called "Home Again." It's a Romantic comedy about a well-off 40-ish divorcee who moves back to L.A. with her two young daughters and winds up taking three aspiring filmmakers into her guest house.
Any lover of classic American films would have to admit that it's a premise with possibilities. Ernst Lubitsch could have done marvelous things with it. Billy Wilder, too.
The good news here is that it's not completely insufferable. It is, in fact, marginally sufferable, a boon to those everywhere who like to go to the movies to suffer.
It's a romantic comedy with precious little wit and no discernible reality whatsoever, even when it's obviously trying. In other words, it's a Hollywood fairy tale more than anything -- Goldilocks and the Three Cute Boys.
Witherspoon is Goldilocks. She meets the major cute boy -- played by Pico Alexander -- at her birthday party with the girls. He's at the bar with his friends. She has moved back to L.A. after splitting with her husband (Michael Sheen) and back into the home of her late Dad, the Oscar-winning filmmaker. She gets drunk enough to start making out with a guy half her age. (He's supposed to be 27; Alexander the actor is 26. Witherspoon is 41.) In Hollywood folkways, May-December is everyday stuff. Why not?
The course of true hooking up is interrupted by his upchucking. The next morning, her Mom (Candice Bergen) brings back her two daughters and suggests that the cute boy and his two aspirant film chums move into the guest house while they try to write and finance their first film.
Lubitsch and Wilder would have crushed this with glorious cynicism. This movie is so featureless and drab that it makes TV sitcoms look sophisticated and stylish.
But then it's not really a movie; it's an audition film for Hollywood's Next Generation. The writer/director is Hallie Meyers-Shyer, the daughter of Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer, two writer/directors who are simillarly given to romantic comedies about absurdly well-off entirely unrealistic people. As unreal as they are, Mom and Dad's movies do have their moments -- "What Women Want," "Baby Boom." Big stars are attracted to them, among other things.
There are no moments here -- just a long, long string of missed opportunities.
Nat Wolff, or Cute Boy No. 2, is the son of jazz pianist Michael Wolff and drop-dead gorgeous actress Polly Draper (whose genes are, perhaps, a bit too prominent in his face for reality's sake). One of the others is played by the son of a Polish cinematographer. Jon Rudnitsky, of "Saturday Night Live" is another. Also in the film is Josh Stamberg, son of NPR's Susan Stamberg.
The fairy Godmother here is played by Bergen, now at Grandma Age but once a Next Generation Hollywoodian herself who made good. (Dad, of course, was Edgar Bergen.)
It's easy for movie fans to want to see the Next Generation of American Celebrity get a chance to work out around the track. Unfortunately here, these thoroughbreds are, thus far, going to have to content themselves with fortuitous breeding. Nothing else is happening here.
Early on, Bergen delivers one of Meyers-Shyers' snottier wisecracks about letting the cute boys live in the guest house until the inevitable moment when they have to move back to "upstate New York."
If ever there were a movie that desperately cried out for exactly the sort of ruthless reality one learns about life in "upstate New York" it's this one.
"Goldilocks and the Three Cute Boys," sadly, is enough to give nepotism a bad name again.
If you must see it, for whatever reason, you'll find Witherspoon's scenes with the always-superb Michael Sheen watchable in a way that nothing else in this movie is. Downright sufferable, I say.
2 stars (out of four)
Reese Witherspoon, Michael Sheen, Candice Bergen and Nat Wolff in Hallie Meyers-Shyer's tale of a well-off future divorcee moving back to Los Angeles with two young daughters and three aspiring young film-makers living in her guest house. Rated PG-13 for bland sexuality and language. 97 minutes