This image released by Netflix shows Reese Witherspoon, left, and Ashton Kutcher in a scene from "Your Place or Mine." (Netflix via AP)
If you decide to settle in and watch “Your Place or Mine” to see the sparks fly between Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher, you’ll be initially disappointed. They’re not in the same room until the last 12 minutes.
The premise of this particular Netflix rom-com is two old friends switching homes for a week and snapping each other out of their ruts. Might they also fall in love? (Do many rom-coms not end that way?)
In this one, Witherspoon and Kutcher play opposites — he’s a rich consultant who lives in a chic but chilly New York apartment; she’s an earthy and protective single mom to a 13-year-old boy in Los Angeles. They hooked up 20 years ago but decided friendship was the better path.
These two talk every day, forcing the filmmakers to spend a fortune on split screens. It’s an intimate relationship over two decades as each supports and encourages the other. Someone asks him the obvious question — “If you like each other so much, why aren’t you guys together?” — and there is no really good answer. She offers another: “Uh, barf.”
A last-minute emergency triggers the film’s central action: Witherspoon needs to fly to New York but her childcare main option flakes, so Kutcher’s character decides to go to Los Angeles as backup. “You need help and I’m coming,” he tells her. They find themselves in each other’s homes, getting to know each others’ friends and generally shaking things up.
Written and directed by Aline Brosh McKenna, “Your Place or Mine” is cute and light from a creator known more for satires like “Devil Wears Prada” and “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” This Valentine’s Day, it hits the spot if you’re in the mood for pretty people acting insecure and clueless.
At first, though, the film meanders with an alarming lack of urgency, as if Brosh McKenna was happy enough just filling the screen with her two beautiful leads and putting them in pretty places. You might initially mistake it as a rom-com for real estate.
Eventually, each start to see the other as a project that needs fixing. Kutcher tries to loosen up his best friend’s son — snack on junk food, letting him watch scary movies and allowing him to try out for the hockey team, all things forbidden when mom’s around. He sees it all as an extension of work: “That’s what I do: I get in, manage things, no muss, no fuss.”
On the other coast, Witherspoon finds an old manuscript her best friend has hidden from her and decides she must try to get it published. She also flirts with a hunky publisher — Jesse Williams, smoldering — and breaks all logic when she doesn’t immediately fall into the cool, sensual piercing blue of his eyes and never wants to leave… Wait, where was I?
The film soon mines an interesting area, namely how much do best friends really know about each other? When Witherspoon’s character finds the book, she is in shock. “We tell each other everything,” she says. Replies a friend: “Obviously you don’t.” This is also a film that champions taking a chance, going for it and not playing it safe.
The film allows Witherspoon and Kutcher to show off their naturally funny sides, especially when they’re fishes out of water. But many of the scenes drag on and sometimes the exposition is chalky, like when Witherspoon says: “I have to finish this program before the end of the year so I can apply for that open senior accounting position at the regional school district.”
Some smaller roles give important jolts of quirky, like Zoë Chao as a slinky former flame of Kutcher’s character in New York and Tig Notaro and Steve Zahn in LA. Notaro’s wit is as dry as a cactus, while Zahn plays a loopy gardener who is credited for writing two oddball songs on the soundtrack.
Speaking of songs, the producers must have forked over tons of cash to the estate of Ric Ocasek. To establish Kutcher’s character as a fan of The Cars, no less than nine songs — including “Heartbreak City,” “Drive” and “You Might Think” — have been used. The film’s soundtrack could double as a greatest-hits album.
The film builds to — finally! — a scene when Witherspoon and Kutcher are in the same zip code and a nice flipping of the traditional rom-com airport scene on its head. That’s when the film answers the question can men and women just be friends with a strong: “Uh, barf.”
“Your Place or Mine,” a Netflix release, is rated PG-13 for “suggestive material and brief strong language.” Running time: 111 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
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