Home Again

Posted on September 7, 2017 at 5:17 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some thematic and sexual material
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, marijuana, discussion of antidepressant medication
Violence/ Scariness: Tense family confrontations, scuffle
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 9, 2017
Date Released to DVD: December 11, 2017
Copyright 2017 Open Road

Producer/director/writer Nancy Meyers has the formula on lockdown: Take one Oscar-winning performer, preferably of a certain age (Diane Keaton, Anne Hathaway, Robert de Niro, Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet). Create a setting of lush, heavenly comfort with soft pillows, gleaming surfaces, white wine, and luscious food. Add a generic title (“The Intern,” “The Holiday”). Put some overly familiar pop songs on the soundtrack and use them to hide the lack of dialogue in scenes when we should be allowed to hear what the characters are saying that is making them think differently about each other. Settle back for a story where the female character is ADORED by everyone and also very capable and pretty much right about everything.

Whether her daughter absorbed all of this by osmosis or is merely a fully-owned subsidiary of the Meyers operation, we may never know. But “Home Again,” the first film from writer/director Hallie Meyers-Shyer is produced by her mother and follows exactly the same formula. It is, to say the least, highly unusual for a first-time writer/director to helm such a high budget, high-profile project, starring, yes, an Oscar-winner, Reese Witherspoon, as yes, a women of a certain age who lives in a spectacularly gorgeous home (Fountain in front! Guest house in back!). But Meyers is a reliable commodity, and as generous with her daughter as her ever-beneficent heroines are in the films. Remember Streep bringing out all those pies for her friends?

If there are no surprises here, one of the non-surprises is that the movie is an easy watch, combining, as Meyers films do, pleasant fantasy with aspirational settings. I know I’ll watch it again when it comes on cable, or if I have the flu or need to fold laundry.

Witherspoon is Alice, as in Wonderland, a mother of two who has moved into her late father’s house in Los Angeles because she and her music industry producer who wears leather bracelets husband Austen (Michael Sheen) have separated. Her father was a much-married, Oscar-winning screenwriter and director because apparently that is pretty much the only world she knows or the only one we can dream of.

Alice goes out with friends on her birthday and gets tipsy with three young men who have just arrived in Los Angeles after success with a short, black and white film they are hoping to turn into a feature. She and Harry (Pico Alexander) end up in bed together, though too drunk to do anything. The next morning, Alice’s mother (Candace Bergen) arrives, befriends the three young men, and invites them to stay in Alice’s guest house.

Alice is against this at first, but comes to enjoy it, as the guys help her with the house and her girls and she and Harry end up doing what they were unable to do that first night. The ultimate seduction move is, of course, fixing the hinge on her cabinet, and I don’t say that metaphorically. They all of course ADORE her and are themselves adorable. Enter Austen, wanting to assert his alpha male status and win back Alice because of course he ADORES her, too.

So, basically a high-end Hallmark movie, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

NOTE: This is the second movie in a row for Meyers with an inappropriate and borderline offensive “joke” about children who take antidepressants. What’s up with that?

Parents should know that this movie includes sexual references and situations, drinking and drunkenness, as well as family conflicts and divorce, a child dealing with stress, and a scuffle.

Family discussion: Were you surprised by Alice’s decision? How did Harry help her understand what she needed?

If you like this, try: “The Holiday” and “It’s Complicated” — and you can glimpse writer/director Hallie Meyers-Shyer in her parents remake of “The Parent Trap”

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Interview: Tatyana Ali of “Home Again”

Posted on November 26, 2013 at 3:51 pm

tatyana-ali-home-again-movieTatyana Ali stars with CCH Pounder in the heartbreaking drama Home Again as Marva, a young Canadian mother deported to Haiti without her children. She talked to me about taking on a role so different from her work on “Fresh Prince” and “Elmo in Grouchland.”

How did you become involved with this project?

I was actually sent a script and it came as an offer which is interesting because usually, you get offered things that are similar to other parts that you’ve played before. But this one is a completely different character and also a totally different kind of story than what I’ve been used to telling.  When I got it, I called my agent and I said “Did they make a mistake? Is it Marva that they want me to play or is it another character?”  I just fell in love with her and with the script. It was a really beautiful, really thoughtful script.  I personally wasn’t even aware of the deportations that have been going on, even though my family is from the Caribbean. And then speaking with Sudz Sutherland, the director, that’s what sealed the deal because he is really brilliant. He and his wife, Jen took years to put the script together and to compile the real life stories. I just knew that there was going to be a lot of care put into telling the story.

Of all the characters in the movie, your character suffered the most visceral, personal, terrible things happening. How do you prepare yourself for that kind of anguish?

It took me a while to kind of figure her out. Having Caribbean ancestry, that part of the story, I understood. I’ve been around stories all my life from my aunts, from my mom, from my dad. I feel like I know what it’s like to feel like a stranger in a strange land, to come somewhere and not speak the language and know the culture, not knowing where you fit, to be even made a pariah in certain instances.  The hardest thing for me was being a mother because I’m not a mother. I have friends who are moms, I have a great mom and a great grandmother.  That was so central.  Marva’s entire journey is to bring her children back to her.  That is the kind of love that forces her out of her own shell, it forces her to have to stop being naïve and to become strong and gain courage. That’s all because she needs her children. For her, it’s like losing her legs.  So that was the hardest work I feel like I had to.

There’s a particularly brutal scene of sexual assault by Marva’s uncle.

Paul Campbell is such an amazing actor.  We kind of ran into each other in the lobby of the hotel we were all staying in, I think the first thing we got there. And immediately, he was like “Let’s have tea. Let’s sit down. Let’s talk…” And he talked about the scene. Luckily we didn’t shoot it until 3 weeks later but by the time we got to that space, I knew the crew, I knew we were all telling the same story, I knew Paul and I just felt really safe.

What do you want people to talk about on their way home after seeing this film?

When we were shooting the film, this debate is still going on even in California. It’s happening all over the world but I think it reminded me of what was going on in California. It reminded me of the talks that politicians had and that people had at their dining room tables about immigrants.  Your children stay because they’re Americans and you have to leave. There’s something barbaric about that and about our policies.  We’re not looking at people, we’re looking at people work, and making our decisions based off of that. I would hope that after seeing this film, I hope that it does shed light on that and that it allows you to walk in these characters’ shoes. And then when it comes time to like capture votes or state your opinion at the table somewhere when you’re talking to somebody, you actually bring up the human factor. I think that’s a really powerful part of this story. And that was the filmmakers’ purpose in telling you the story. It’s to bring a kind of blood to it and let people realize these are real people.

I was particularly moved by your performance in the scene where you explained kind of how you got into that mess.  I think we can all relate to the idea that when you love somebody, you’d do anything for them when you trust them. 

That scene was actually really, really important to me. I felt like that was in that scene, Marva switches from victim to somebody who can actually be a hero and somebody who can actually control her own destiny. Even though she’s telling the story about being duped, of being tricked into carrying illegal stuff across borders, she admits her own guilt.  That’s the first time that she really takes responsibility and for me, that’s like the turning point in her story. After she takes responsibility, she can really control her destiny and really be strong.  Being in this film changed me, like it took me someplace that I’ve never been before and I’m not the same after it. So now, I’m kind of like, “Oh, I want that again.”

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Interview: CCH Pounder on “Home Again”

Posted on November 14, 2013 at 8:00 am

Home Again is the story of three people, Jamaican by birth but having lived their entire lives in other countries, are who are deported for getting into trouble with the law.  A mother from Canada, a student from England, and a man recently released from prison in the US are all sent “back” to a country they barely know.  It is now available on DVD and streaming. I spoke with the distinguished actress CCH Pounder, who plays the mother of the student who is sent to the other side of the world.

Why did you want to be in this movie?

I’m really interested in highlighting stories from the Caribbean and it is a good script.  It’s the part of the world that I’m from, a part of the world that I rarely see discussed or not well discussed, certainly not seen in the cinemas. I wanted to be part of something that went beyond ‘The Harder They Come.” And so I’ve been looking out for directors and writers who want to highlight that region.

You took on a part with a lot of challenges.  For important scenes, you’re on the phone with your son, which means you’re responding to someone who is not in the same room.   

Even though the role itself is rather small, and you don’t see much displayed on film,  she has to create a back story of somebody who has raised someone and then she’s going to lose them in an instant. It’s precipitated by her desire to teach him a lesson. Everything kind of goes to hell in a handbasket really rather quickly and completely changes their lives and you have to create that in a few scenes mostly on phone calls.

You are with your son in the scene with the lawyer though, and I thought that was a very, very powerful scene.

I think one of the things that I’m really aware of, is sitting in front of people of authority, particularly one here from the third world country where you give them the benefit of the doubt at all times. So if you sit in front of the doctor and he says, you’re dying of cancer and you have three days to live then you go home, you sell everything. And it’s like that kind of voice of authority.  My character has to kind of illustrate that to her son. “I’m going to fix that mister,” you know, that kind of thing. I think a lot of people know what that is when you do it. And also I’ve been in that situation myself, with my immigration papers. You know having to sit and keep a flat face while bad news is being given to you and some of it is acting and some of it pulling from somebody else’s history.

Where that person has all of the power and you just really need them not to be threatened by you in anyway?

Exactly.

Tell me a little bit about what some of the challenges are for a character like the one you play, where she is an immigrant and she’s trying to raise the child in a different culture and give him a sense of what his own culture is like.

Well actually, she doesn’t give him a sense of what his own culture is like, which is really interesting because I will say that the biggest challenge for most people who immigrate is that they have to hit the ground running, they have to find housing, they have to find a job, and they have to start earning a wage very quickly and that wage probably is not much so they’re going to look for two and three jobs. So you spend a lot of your life just saying “Did you behave today, did you take care of this?” And there’s not much you know, “Ah! How was your day?”, “Let’s watch this, let’s eat together”. There is that pressure of maintenance and so when your kid gets into trouble, you try to slam them hard like you could, “This could really be a problem. This could be this, this could be that”. And I think that the talk would affect lawyer and while all those kids get slapped on the wrist where he’s just part of the joyride, which most teenagers around the world are entitled to do if they belong. That’s what would have happened; he would have had a slap on the wrist and said “You see? If you don’t do that, such and such will happen” but instead, it was “bam”, this happens. And it turns your entire world upside down and that it’s not much different about black children living in United States, black young man and their mother constantly hankering, just hammering home. “Don’t go there, don’t do this, don’t hang with them” endlessly hear it and you know.

What do you hope people will talk about on the way home after seeing this film?

Fantastic question, because, I don’t think that this should be the only film about this story but I think this film opens up a dialogue and it has a kind of a universal flavor to it.  There are Eastern Europeans that are sitting in Mexico, there are Mexicans sitting in America, there are Jamaicans, Nigerians, etc. sitting in all these ports, working, raising children, papers, no papers. There are refugees coming in. Life is changing and migrations are moving, and the world is changing in general and these stopgaps of papers are going to be in the end all of things. I thought it’s really important that people start to have a dialogue about what do you do with your children who are basically, the children of the country, simply without papers? Are you going to take them on? Are you going to give them a drivers license? Are you going to make them legal? Are you going to have them become productive members of the society in which they were raised, the only society that they know?  So it has a long way to go in terms of what the conversation could be and I’m hoping that this tiny little film creates a potboiler. I actually witnessed that we screened at the British Museum in London last week and I was there and you know three or four days later, the feedback was, they are still talking about it and I think the cross section of immigrants who were watching in the room who considered themselves British was, it was quite an eye opener to them.

Once I said yes in terms of participation, for me there was not a huge challenge. This is not an unfamiliar story to me. I come from an immigrant family. I know about who has papers, and who doesn’t, and who forged them, and who didn’t, and who survived and who got to step back. I mean it is really not far from my tree. The apple just barely rolled. And so this is wonderful that somebody wrote it and they interviewed forty to fifty deportees in Jamaica in terms of how they got here and all the things and places they came from. And so this story is weaved together by just three people and some people surrounding them, but just three people were actually representing a myriad of stories and maybe that’s why it seems at time so highly dramatic because you are putting in several stories into one person’s life history.

 

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