The last 20 years have done a number on the romantic comedy. Maligned by disinterested studios churning out tepid derivatives and suffocated by an overbearing discourse marshaled by disappointed fans, the genre can’t seem to catch a break. The headlines have been unsparing: The romantic comedy is dead! The romantic comedy never mattered! Occasionally a film will revive minor faith in the future of the genre, but for the most part recent attempts to save one of cinema’s most cherished categories of comfort food have been forgettable affairs.
Given these circumstances, I approached Your Place or Mine with suspicion and some exasperation. On paper the project has potential: Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher star as Debbie and Peter, the two people we will patiently wait to see fall in love over the course of 2 hours. Both are performers who have built up enough good will over the years to activate our nostalgia. Aline Brosh McKenna, who wrote the screenplays for 27 Dresses and The Devil Wears Prada, is screenwriter and director. A charming group of actors are cast in supporting roles. But even a film with so much seemingly going for it can come up empty.
Your Place or Mine
The Bottom Line
An old-school charmer.
Thankfully, Your Place or Mine doesn’t. It’s a breezy charmer — the kind of movie these obits have been mourning over the years. The film returns to the genre’s blueprint and sticks with it. There are a couple of instances of subversion, moments when Your Place or Mine winks and pokes fun at itself. But for the most part it doesn’t want to surprise or be more clever than the viewer; it aims to please, and in doing so helps re-energize the romantic comedy.
The film opens with a poker game in Los Angeles at the home of Debbie (Witherspoon). We can tell it’s 2003 — not because of the fashion choices the film cheekily points out through arrows and lists, but because Debbie could save enough in her 20s to own her place. Peter (Kutcher), an aspiring writer and emotionally disconnected man she beats in poker, thinks that’s very cool. She is strong-willed and independent; he’s a bit more of a wayward soul. They bond over a shared love of literature. The two have sex, but don’t end up together. They maintain a 20-year friendship instead.
In the present day, Debbie is an accountant and single mother to Jack (Wesley Kimmel). Her last marriage to a mountain climber didn’t work out; he wanted adventure and she wanted stability. Peter is a brand consultant who lives in New York now because of a fear of earthquakes (or so he repeatedly says). His apartment — unlike Debbie’s warm home filled with years of memories and things — is a barren luxury condo in Brooklyn with killer views of the Manhattan Bridge.
Despite their laundry list of differences and hundreds of miles of between them, Debbie and Peter have managed to nurture their platonic relationship. Their bond is indeed so strong that each of Peter’s ex-girlfriends — all of whom dump him after six months — know about Debbie despite having never met her. Fifteen minutes into Your Place or Mine, we know where the story is heading. And that’s OK — enjoyable, even — because McKenna constructs a tight narrative around the couple. Your Place or Mine is less “will they or won’t they?” and more “why didn’t they?”.
Fear is what tethers Debbie and Peter, and it’s also what keeps them apart. The last two decades have been about playing roles they self-prescribed in their early 20s. Debbie’s life revolves around her son and providing him with stability. Peter’s existence is structured around bypassing emotional intimacy and getting ahead of rejection. When they decide to swap lives for a week (Debbie has to go to New York to take an accounting class and exam that would snag her a promotion at work), both are forced to confront the cracks and contradictions in their stories.
In keeping with tradition, McKenna’s film echoes entries from the contemporary rom-com canon. Similar to Kathleen and Joe in You’ve Got Mail, Debbie and Peter build intimacy via technology (phone calls and FaceTime chats). And like Adam and Emma in No Strings Attached, our two protagonists are longtime friends with an undeniable attraction to one another. A liberal use of split-screen gives us the chance to see how Debbie and Peter have managed to stay close over the years: Their early-morning conversations and late-night catch ups are peppered with flirty, casual banter, inside jokes and brief reflections on the past. They speak freely and easily to one another, and that foundation makes what they withhold all the more glaring. This is where Witherspoon and Kutcher’s experience in the genre comes in handy; they add dimensionality and notes of romance to a simmering, long-distance relationship.
Kudos must be given to the gallery of supporting characters, who enliven our journey to the inevitable confession. Zoë Chao plays Minka, Peter’s ex-girlfriend and Debbie’s millennial fairy godmother while she is in New York. Her outfits (costume design by Sophie DeRakoff) and cutting jokes will make you wish she was on screen more often. Ditto Jesse Williams, who plays Theo, a book editor Debbie finds herself attracted to during her brief trip. On the other side of the country, Kimmel as Jack and Tig Notaro as Debbie’s closest friend, Alicia, bring a droll humor to their characters, who try to help Peter tell Debbie how he really feels.
By the time we get to the end of Your Place or Mine, this band of characters has begun to feel like a family. And, as with the best romantic comedies, you start to miss the unrealistic version of reality they populated.
Production companies: Aggregate Films, Hello Sunshine, Lean Machine
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Ashton Kutcher, Jesse Williams, Zoë Chao, Wesley Kimmel, Griffin Matthews, Rachel Bloom, Shiri Appleby, Vella Lovell, Tig Notaro, Steve Zahn
Director-screenwriter: Aline Brosh McKenna
Producers: Jason Bateman, Michael Costigan, Reese Witherspoon, Lauren Neustadter, Aline Brosh McKenna
Executive producer: Merri D. Howard
Cinematographer: Florian Ballhaus
Production designer: William Arnold
Costume designer: Sophie DeRakoff
Editor: Chris A. Peterson
Composer: Siddhartha Khosla
Casting director: Ronna Kress
1 hour 51 minutes