This humdrum Netflix romantic comedy features Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher as longtime friends with possibly hidden feelings for each other.
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By Amy Nicholson
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Reese Witherspoon, Ashton Kutcher and the screenwriter (and first-time director) Aline Brosh McKenna each have decades of experience making hit romantic comedies. So it’s all the more confounding that their latest, “Your Place or Mine,” is as phony and flat as a store-bought valentine forced on every kid in class. Witherspoon and Kutcher play Debbie and Peter, longtime chums who shared a sole night of passion 20 years ago before settling into a bicoastal best friendship. Why haven’t these codependent singletons gotten back together? “She’s … her and I’m … me?” he sputters. His answer sums up the hard thinking that went into this script.
An opening flashback to Debbie and Peter’s previous hookup is the film’s comedic peak. Brosh McKenna points out the onscreen 2003 signifiers: trucker hats, flat-ironed hair and enough layered shirts to turn Witherspoon into a matryoshka doll. There’s also, of course, Witherspoon and Kutcher themselves, who spent that year shooting separate rom-coms, hers with Luke Wilson and his with Tara Reid and Brittany Murphy. Past the intro, they’re kept apart here, too. Instead, their characters swap homes, forcing the two stars to squander their breezy familiarity with each other on separate sides of phone conversations and split-screen bubble baths.
This Netflix production is banking on nostalgic good will for curiosity clicks. People puttering in and out of the room folding laundry can rest easy that there are few crucial plot points to miss — and the ones that exist tend to get repeated at least twice.
Peter, for example, is a Manhattan marketing consultant with commitment problems. Early on, he breaks up with his latest girlfriend at the six-month mark; in his next scene, he has a near-identical conversation with his latest corporate clients. (The clients take it harder.) Debbie, a risk-averse single mother in Los Angeles, is pilloried with advice from one friend (Tig Notaro) — “Get your degree, find a man, then come home and redo your kitchen” — and escapes only to immediately collide with a second pesky pal (Rachel Bloom), who tacks on that the self-sacrificial parent should also pursue her dream job as a book editor.
The pacing of these scenes feels as though we’re trapped in a spaceship airlock and can only faintly remember what natural life felt like back home on Earth. It only takes a squint to see that Debbie’s adorable foibles — rules scribbled on Post-it notes stuck all over the house, an insistence that her overprotected 13-year-old son (Wesley Kimmel) is allergic to everything from grass to fun — would, in reality, demand an intervention and, perhaps, a diagnosis of Munchausen by proxy. But no one in this movie is playing anything near a human being, although Kutcher occasionally resembles one when he lowers his head, crinkles his eyes and chuckles.
The movie’s sincerity can be measured by how flippantly it disposes of its love rivals. Steve Zahn suffers the most indignities as a tech millionaire who retired to garden Debbie’s yard pro bono, while Jesse Williams’s charming literary publisher never gets a chance to put up a fair fight. As for Minka (Zoë Chao), Peter’s ex, a marvelously droll narcissist somehow willing to drop her whole big-city life to help a stranger get her groove back, she may not win the guy, but she steals all of her scenes.
Your Place or Mine
Rated PG-13 for strong language and suggestive material. Running time: 1 hour 49 minutes. Watch on Netflix.
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