“Your Place or Mine” begins in 2003, and it feels like the kind of superficially agreeable and instantly forgettable romantic comedy that came out around that time.
These are the movies that have found new life in heavy rotation on the monitors at DryBar: “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” “The Holiday,” and “Something’s Gotta Give.” You can watch them absent-mindedly while getting a blowout and sipping a complementary glass of champagne in preparation for a girls’ night out.
“Your Place or Mine” marks the feature directing debut of longtime writer Aline Brosh McKenna, whose many credits include “27 Dresses,” another aughts rom-com staple. McKenna also wrote the far superior Oscar nominee “The Devil Wears Prada.” Her latest film never comes close to reaching those heights in terms of sharp dialogue or richly drawn characters, but it also isn’t aiming that high. Rather, “Your Place or Mine” seems content with being pleasant, and maybe that’s sufficient for a lazy Saturday Netflix watch.
Trouble is, we know the film’s stars are capable of so much more. Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher are, of course, great-looking and charismatic, and both have perfectly snappy comic timing after all these years. So it’s frustrating watching them try to take this safe, bland material and make it sing.
Witherspoon and Kutcher play Debbie and Peter, who hooked up once 20 years ago and have been best friends ever since. We know they’re best friends because they keep telling us they’re best friends, but their exchanges never convey the comfort or substance of such a crucial, two-decade bond. Even though they live across the country from each other, they still talk every day in some form, and while their conversations are breezy, they lack a believable spark.
McKenna quickly establishes that they’re opposites through the use of familiar genre tropes. Split screens show that Debbie lives in a cluttered and colorful Los Angeles Craftsman while Peter lives in a sleek and spacious Brooklyn condo overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. (The backgrounds are extremely green-screeny.) She’s a perky and uptight single mom; he’s a sardonic charmer with commitment issues. She walks through a quiet, leafy neighborhood while he walks through the bustling city streets. They’re so different! Could they possibly end up together?
McKenna’s script keeps them physically apart for the vast majority of the movie, though, as a series of contrivances forces them to swap homes for a week. Debbie moves into Peter’s place while finishing some professional training in Manhattan; meanwhile, Peter agrees to live in Debbie’s home to take care of her sweet and shy 13-year-old son, Jack (Wesley Kimmel). He arrives to a litany of anxious Post-It notes all over everything, and she can’t figure out how to get his high-tech entertainment system to stop playing songs by Peter’s favorite band, The Cars. It’s wacky! (Seriously, name a Cars song, and it’s in this movie, including “Drive” while Peter is … driving.)
Each location features a wise-cracking sidekick who’s much more compelling than the main character. Peter gets to hang out with Debbie’s middle school co-worker pal, played by a delightfully dry Tig Notaro. Debbie improbably becomes instant BFFs with Peter’s preening party girl ex-girlfriend, played by Zoe Chao. Her snarky, sly delivery is enjoyable, but this character apparently has no life outside of showing up and being supportive of a woman she just met.
Other wedged-in supporting figures include Steve Zahn as Debbie’s gardener and the would-be suitor who’s so laid-back, his name is actually Zen, and Jesse Williams as a handsome and accomplished New York book editor with whom she enjoys a flirtation. Both feel like afterthoughts and underdeveloped obstacles.
Will Debbie let loose in New York? Will Peter find stability in Los Angeles? And will each find in the other a love that was there all along? Aside from a brief, forced fight because there has to be some kind of conflict, the answers to these questions are obvious. There’s nothing complicated about these people or these scenarios that would throw their destinies in doubt. The journey is always more important than the destination when it comes to romantic comedies, but there’s barely a twist or detour or even a pothole in the road to make this trip more interesting.
On Netflix today.