Movie review: Rom-com ‘Your Place or Mine’ goes nowhere

In a funnier world, Zoë Chao and Tig Notaro are starring in their own romantic comedy together. Meantime, in the real world, they’re ringers in support of Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher, the ones running what we’ll charitably call “the show” in “Your Place or Mine.” No question mark on that title. None needed. It’s a flat business proposition, like the movie now streaming on Netflix.

Between Witherspoon, Kutcher and writer/first-time feature director Aline Brosh McKenna, we’re talking roughly 70 years’ collective experience in the rom-com genre. So why is this one so bleh? Is it because the getting-together of the romantic leads is a foregone conclusion?

Hardly: Most rom-coms are foregone conclusions, interrupted by montages and usually building to a key scene in an airport terminal. (”Your Place or Mine”: check.) But every good rom-com makes the inevitable enticing with stuff money can’t buy. Wit. Fizz. Character likability. Amusing detestability. Some visual life and snap. Mugging that gets the job done. “A hundred or more hidden things” is how Vincente Minnelli described the secret to any film with staying power. Even if you stay with “Your Place or Mine,” it is unlikely to stay with you.

Loving, tightly wound single parent Debbie (Witherspoon) lives in a humble zillion-dollar bungalow on a Silver Lake hillside in Los Angeles with her sweet, wise, oversheltered and allergy-prone 13-year-old son, Jack (Wesley Kimmel). Debbie’s best friend and one-time, 20-years-ago hookup lives in New York City in a sleek, scarily underfurnished apartment suggesting a comic reboot of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” This is Peter (Kutcher), a wealthy marketing consultant who has known many women but no real emotional connection. He sees himself as broken and “unknowable,” in need of what Debbie can provide: a friend and a life partner who truly knows him.

The script contrives a residence swap: Debbie goes to New York to study, taking over Peter’s place and acquiring a temporary bestie, one of Peter’s exes (played by Chao, with whipcrack timing). In trade, Peter jets to LA to take care of young Jack while Debbie’s away. This means introducing Jack to everything his hypervigilant mother doesn’t allow into his life, such as “Alien” or convertibles.

Witherspoon and Kutcher don’t share a locale until near the end, but they’re relentlessly on screen together via split-screen phone calls (like “Pillow Talk”). At one point, a jealous Peter glimpses apartment security camera footage of his New York pad as Debbie’s getting it on with the most famous literary editor in all of America.

Visually the film is pretty but also pretty lifeless, with undifferentiated lighting for interiors as well as exteriors.


2 stars (out of 4)

Rated: PG-13 (for suggestive material and brief strong language)

Running time: 1:51

Where to watch: streaming on Netflix.