Not too long ago, romantic comedies were big business. Movies like “When Harry Met Sally” (1989), “My Best Friend’s Wedding” (1997), and “Love Actually” (2003) were enormous commercial and critical hits, modern classics which continue to be significant cultural touchstones to this day. Those days, it seems, are long gone. Whatever the cause— the Marvelification of movies, the bloating of Hollywood budgets, the changing tastes of audiences, the rise of streaming, or a combination thereof— the romantic comedy blockbuster is pretty much dead. And sadly, “Your Place Or Mine,” Netflix’s latest entry in the genre, is unlikely to revive it.
To be fair, it’s a diverting enough watch overall. The acting is good, the characters are fun and colorful, and the script has some decent laughs and sweet moments. Plus the plot is quite original, at least by romcom standards. Debbie (Reese Witherspoon) and Peter (Ashton Kutcher) hooked up once, 20 years ago, but ultimately decided they were better off as friends. Fast forward to 2023: Debbie now lives in L.A., a single mother with a sickly child (Wesley Kimmel). Peter, on the other hand, has moved to New York City, and is now a successful marketing executive working his way through an endless string of superficial relationships. Through the years, Debbie and Peter have kept in touch (with, among other things, multiple video chats a day), and are now best friends. So when Debbie needs to fly to New York City for a week to complete some kind of course, Jack volunteers to fly to L.A. to watch Jack. And so they trade apartments and, over the course of the film, learn a little bit about themselves… and how they really feel about each other.
It is abundantly clear, from the very first frame of “Your Place Or Mine,” that screenwriter and first-time feature director Aline Brosh McKenna, knows her way around a romantic comedy. Nearly every major genre trope is present and accounted for here: the scatterbrained girl; the buttoned-up guy; the precocious child; the eccentric friend and/or neighbor; the will-they-won’t-they plot; etc. (The film even features the two most popular rom-com locations, L.A. and New York.) The use of tropes is, in itself, not a bad thing— after all, the reason they have become tropes at all is that they work— but one wishes that they were employed with a little more flair and originality.
The film has other flaws, too: The stakes are so low-key as to be non-existent. The main conflict rears its head more than an hour into the story— and some of the minor conflicts don’t seem to matter at all. (She’s late for the test! Oh, she made it, after all. The kid is hurt! Oh, actually, he’s okay.) Many of the characters are thinly drawn, and act more like a collection of quirks rather than living, breathing human beings. Some of the CGI backgrounds are downright embarrassing in their lack of realism. The dialogue is frequently awkward and wooden, as when Debbie says, “I have to finish this program before the end of the year so I can apply for that open senior accounting position at the regional school district.” (Yes, that is an actual line of dialogue from this movie.)
And yet “Your Place Or Mine” has its bright spots, too. McKenna, who wrote the screenplay for (the far superior) “The Devil Wears Prada” takes some well-worn romantic comedy motifs— supers, split-screens, and even the airport scene (possibly the biggest cliché of them all)— and employs them in a clever, charming way that I’ve honestly never seen before. As for the actors, Reese Witherspoon is as delightful to watch as ever (despite her character being slightly underwritten); and Ashton Kutcher is so effortlessly charming you wonder why he isn’t a much bigger star. In supporting roles, Steve Zahn is gleefully wacky as Debbie’s next-door neighbor; and Tig Notaro (as Debbie’s friend Alicia) practically steals the entire movie with her deadpan dialogue that is all the more hilarious for seeming to be completely ad-libbed.
All told, it’s not a bad film. In fact, if you’re expecting the usual run-of-the-mill Netflix offering, the kind that’s okay to have in the background while you’re doing laundry or washing the dishes, you may be pleasantly surprised. Hey, it’s Valentine’s Day, so maybe give “Your Place Or Mine” a try! (Just don’t expect to remember anything about it tomorrow.)
3 crowns: good but not great