Lackluster Chemistry Doesn’t Sink Sweet Rom-Com
Mar 4, 2023
Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher are no strangers to romantic comedies, and Your Place or Mine, Netflix’s latest rom-com, has the two massive Hollywood actors teaming up for the first time. Can they recreate the magical feeling of some of their past rom-com work? The answer: Sort of.
Written and directed by Aline Brosh McKenna, Your Place or Mine follows Debbie (Witherspoon) and Peter (Kutcher), best friends who live on the West and East coast, respectively. Debbie is eager to attend a class in New York for a week for a critical career shift, but her babysitter bails. Looking to help his best friend out, Peter suggests the two swap homes for the week, so Debbie can achieve her goal and Peter can watch her son while she does so. This temporary house swap forces the two to come to some realizations, the most significant being that they may be more than just friends.
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Ashton Kutcher in Your Place or Mine
Your Place or Mine hardly qualifies as a romantic comedy. While there is romance in the form of the underrated friends-to-lovers trope (or, in this case, lovers-to-friends-to-lovers), the two never build on their tension or romantic connection. They barely talk after the house swap. Peter and Debbie have been the best of friends for 20 years. Despite being on opposite sides of the country, the two constantly communicate and tell each other everything. The film’s premise hinges upon Witherspoon and Kutcher’s abilities to call upon their charisma and history of playing rom-com leads. And while they very much retain their natural pizazz, the two can’t quite bridge the gap between what they once were and what this film desperately needs them to be. As the images of the two promoting their film indicate, these two have no chemistry, and Kutcher isn’t suited for his role. In a perfect world, Kutcher and Shotgun Wedding’s Josh Duhamel would have swapped roles.
Kutcher is tasked with playing a self-defined “piece of shit,” a perpetual playboy who runs away from his problems and strips his home of any personality in favor of the more modern, sleek aesthetic. Kutcher has the skill to play such a role and definitely can muster up the vulnerability that is hidden by a rough exterior, but what is missing is the charm. When at his best, Kutcher stands alongside Ryan Reynolds and Jim Carrey for having a personality that is suited to comedy. There is a distinctiveness to Kutcher that is otherwise missing and is sorely needed in Your Place or Mine.
Reese Witherspoon and Zoë Chao in Your Place or Mine
On the flip side, Witherspoon calls upon her past iconic roles and channels them through the rather timidly written Debbie. Debbie is the opposite of Witherspoon’s Sweet Home Alabama character in a case of role reversal, yet much of the actress’ unique idiosyncrasies are deployed at full force. Debbie is perhaps the most natural Witherspoon has ever played because Debbie seems to be an honest read of who Witherspoon appears to be in the public eye, minus a few key details like Debbie’s fear of impractical living and her helicopter parenting. Witherspoon seems far more comfortable in her role because there is a familiarity in Debbie’s mannerisms.
That said, Your Place or Mine is a pleasant adventure. It moves briskly, despite wasting time on a DOA love triangle. Sorry to Jesse Williams, but he was unnecessary. The film would have heavily benefited from Debbie developing her friendship with Zoë Chao’s Minka. The actress and character are a delight but severely underused. Romantic comedies tend to fall for the same traps, believing that character development can come from romantic subplots when the same can be done with a friendship. Minka could have been reworked, and much of Debbie’s story would have stayed the same. The enjoyability factor tanks when Debbie’s story doesn’t have her engaging with Minka.
On the technical front, Your Place or Mine is a lovely watch. The contrast between Debbie’s bright and colorful life and Peter’s drab city-boy vibe is nicely captured by the production design, the cinematography, and even the costuming. Sadly, viewers don’t get a glimpse of Minka’s place, but it would have been equal parts bonkers and outstanding. There is a sturdiness to Your Place or Mine that is comforting; there is a sense that the creative team behind it knows what they’re doing.
Brosh McKenna’s writing has a quaint sincerity that is hard to dismiss. Her warmth and inviting energy as a filmmaker bring in the audience. It’s as strong as the lead actors’ star power. As a directorial feature, Your Place or Mine hardly seems like the work of some amateur. There is a confidence and assuredness that reverberates throughout the whole film, which comes from Brosh McKenna’s experience as a director, writer, and executive producer on the hit rom-com series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, as well as being a screenwriter on some notable films such as The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses, and the endearing Morning Glory. In a perfect world, Rachel McAdams and Patrick Wilson would have reunited for this, as their chemistry and malleability as actors would have adapted well to the format.
The thing that ultimately hinders this film is Witherspoon and Kutcher’s personas being bigger than their characters, and these characters not being tailored to their strengths. All things considered, however, Your Place or Mine is an enjoyable watch. It hits all the emotional beats well enough, is competently made from beginning to end, and despite a long runtime, remains engaging. Sure, the character work could have been better. But for what it’s worth, Netflix has a decent hit on their hands. It won’t have people clamoring to watch it, but no one will be mad that they did. It’s sweet, sentimental, and perfectly timed for Valentine’s Day. Ultimately, the best thing to come of this is the start of Brosh McKenna’s directing career, and there is much to look forward to.
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Your Place or Mine is now streaming on Netflix. The film is 109 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for suggestive material and brief strong language.
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