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With an ensemble cast and directing from Aline Brosh McKenna, “Your Place or Mine,” released on Netflix on Feb.10, should be a knockout film. With McKenna’s previous films including “The Devil Wears Prada” and “27 Dresses,” expectations were predictably high for Mckenna’s most recent film. Disappointingly, however, the movie instead falls into a number of overdone storytelling cliches and fails to give adequate time or space for watchers to form genuine connection with the movie.
In the film, Peter Coleman (Ashton Kutcher) and Debbie Dunn (Reese Witherspoon) are two lifelong friends who, through unexpected circumstances, end up on opposite sides of the country. They fight to remain friends despite their distance, but live very different lives: Debbie is a helicopter mother to her son Jack (Wesley Kimmel) in their cozy Los Angeles home while Peter lives aloof and alone in his New York apartment. Through unexpected turns of events, Peter ends up volunteering to watch Jack, despite him being a teenager, while Debbie finishes a degree in New York.
A cast boasting the likes of Kutcher and Witherspoon should mean fun and shenanigans, but due to at-times tacky writing, normally comedic scenes become uncomfortable to watch. The first act of the film, in many ways, feels reminiscent of an attempt at the popular life-swap storyline. “The Holiday” from 2006 or “The Parent Trap” from 1961 exemplify these well-known and loved films in which phenomenal cadres of actors are thrown together and their individual talent shines as they effortlessly build off of each other. In contrast, “Your Place or Mine” feels as if the writing and subtleties of the story take center stage and put Kutcher and Witherspoon out of their element.
Ashton Kutcher is no stranger when it comes to comedy with his starring roles on “That 70’s Show” and “Valentine’s Day,” and has also shown audiences he can seriously perform after the release of “Jobs.” However, his role in “Your Place or Mine” doesn’t allow for either facet of the actor’s personality to shine through, as he is stuck playing an internally conflicted, overly-confident guy. Unfortunately, the same can be said for Witherspoon, which is surprising after the critical success of “Big Little Lies” and “The Morning Show.” Although the story itself may not be original, the presentation was unnecessarily rigid and restricted the actors’ potentials.
One of the most potent examples of how the film doesn’t give the characters time to develop comes at the end of the film’s first act.
While Peter is trying to help Jack reconnect with some of his middle school friends by buying them box tickets to watch the L.A. Kings play. His attempts to buy Jack’s friendship are met with apathy. Jack’s kid friends don’t care. In many ways this scene is, ironically, suffering from the same problem as the entire film. By splurging for big-name talents and shorting on the rest of the components of the film, “Your Place or Mine” does the same thing. It avoids the heavy lifting required of quality movie writing, and instead kneecaps the possibility to let the aforementioned stars shine. This issue is particularly noticeable for Peter who comes across as one-dimensional. In the film, Kutcher plays the same funny yet serious recent bachelor as in “Valentine’s Day,” but without the cornerstone of a great, original story, the character falls short regardless of the actor’s talent.
“Your Place or Mine” has all the potential to be a wonderfully fun film, but ultimately isn’t as enjoyable because it tackles too much. Whether it’s working too hard on the writing and thus putting actors in a corner or over-building characters with too much distracting information that isn’t necessary to the story, the film feels scattered. At its core, “Your Place or Mine” is enjoyable to watch once, but it doesn’t deserve a re-watching, which is a shame for such a notable group of actors and writers.
—Staff writer Mikel J. Davies can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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