At last, here is the perfect romantic comedy for Hollywood’s current passion-phobic era: one in which the central couple don’t come within 2,500 miles of each other until the final four minutes.
In Your Place or Mine, Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher play Debbie and Peter, two long-term – and, for some time, also long-distance – best friends. Back in 2003, there was a misguided one-night stand, but the pair have since kept things strictly platonic, keeping up by phone and Zoom from opposite ends of the US.
Peter is an easy-going, commitment-averse New Yorker, while Debbie is a divorced, hyper-organised Angeleno, juggling an accountancy job with raising her young son Jack (Wesley Kimmel). When Debbie has to travel to Manhattan for a week-long training course, Peter volunteers to lend her his apartment while he flies to LA to babysit, and during the ensuing house swap – shades of Nancy Meyers’ The Holiday, here – their discoveries about one another’s lives and ambitions kindle a new, mutual fondness.
This premise, dreamt up for Netflix by writer-director Aline Brosh McKenna, sounds cute in theory: a screen romance sustained purely through Pillow Talk split-screens. In practice, however, it just means Witherspoon and Kutcher are lumbered with all the usual rom-com chores – befriending the prospective partner’s child, meeting their exes, navigating professional mishaps and so on – without getting much actual rom to show for it.
Witherspoon is permitted a dalliance with a hunky literary editor (Jesse Williams), but this is is tame, borderline-dutiful stuff, while elsewhere, she and Kutcher exude the sort of children’s television presenter aura that all but defies you to think of them as sexual beings. This is dire news for their screen chemistry, but at least it chimes with the divertingly cheap sets: Witherspoon’s garden, especially, could look more plastic only if there was a “highly flammable” sign on the front gate.
As the writer of The Devil Wears Prada and the underrated 27 Dresses, McKenna should be on safe ground here. But the whole enterprise feels very self-consciously off-trend – an early noughties prologue, with all the relevant accoutrements from watch chains to Wonderbras, smacks of a comfort zone the film is tremblingly reluctant to leave behind.
As far as Hollywood itself is concerned, romantic comedies have never been less fashionable: blame it on the death of mid-budget filmmaking, or perhaps modern distaste for the sort of wanton, regressive and otherwise cancellable behaviour a juicy will-they won’t-they screen fling usually entails. There’s certainly none of that here: Your Place or Mine is thoroughly mild, considerate and well-behaved. But where’s the fun in that?
12 cert, 111 min. On Netflix now