Movie reviews: Home Again, Daphne, Brimstone
Home Again **
Reese Witherspoon's powerful performance in the hit TV show Big Little Lies has reminded us all just how good she can be. She's one of the few actresses of her generation capable of fronting up a romantic comedy given the right script - this, let us remind ourselves, is the star of Legally Blonde. She gets her chance in Home Again, but is asked to do way too much of the heavy lifting.
Produced by Nancy Meyers and written and directed by her daughter Hallie Meyers-Shyer, Home Again (12A, 97mins) is very much in the maternal mould. Nancy Meyers has long been a dab hand at warm and cuddly rom-coms, and in films like Something's Gotta Give, The Holiday and It's Complicated, has skilfully juggled passion and laughs. Her heroines tend to be wealthy and hang out in the Hamptons or Bel-Air, dealing with problems that might politely be described as first world. In her daughter's film, it's very much business as usual.
Alice Kinney (Witherspoon) has returned to Los Angeles with her two daughters after the break up of her marriage. She's moved into the spacious Hollywood home of her late father, a celebrated director, and is trying to move on with her life when fate intervenes. Alice is turning 40 and while on a night out to celebrate an event she's secretly dreading, she runs into three much younger men. Teddy (Nat Woolf), Harry (Pico Alexander) and George (Jon Rudnitsky) are aspiring film-makers with hopes of landing a big movie deal.
Meanwhile, they've nowhere to live and somehow Alice ends up inviting them to stay with her. A bizarre living arrangement ensues and when Alice's ex (Michael Sheen) turns up looking for a reconciliation, many noses are out of joint. There are no ugly people in Home Again (Alice's elderly mother is Candice Bergen, for God's sake), and no particularly believable ones either. Everyone, even the dithering ex-husband, is infuriatingly lovable, and while Home Again has its comic moments, its characters are overwhelmed by the saccharine fumes of Meyers-Shyer's screenplay.
Peter Mackie Burns' arrestingly original feature début Daphne (15A, 88mins) reminded me a little of 60s films like Georgy Girl, which investigated the changed circumstances of young women in swinging London. That may partly be because Emily Beacham, who plays Daphne, is a bit of a ringer for Lynn Redgrave, but the London she inhabits is a bigger, darker, more dangerous place. Refreshingly for a female character, she's not a doomed heroine, or a scheming villain, or the guileless adjunct of some man. She's a bit of a pain in the arse, quite frankly, who seems determined to avoid contentment at all costs.
Daphne works as a chef in a busy restaurant and spends her free time seeking out meaningless sexual encounters she instantly regrets. She spouts philosophy and psychology to anyone who'll listen, but nothing seems to help. She's on the run from her cleverness, from her sick mother (Geraldine James) and mostly from herself. But when she witnesses the near-fatal stabbing of a shopkeeper, something inside Daphne snaps.
There's nothing neat about Mackie Burns' film: like Daphne herself, it's messy and squalid, compellingly real.
And finally, a word about Brimstone (No Cert, IFI, 149mins), a Dutch western with heavy-handed biblical overtones. Written and directed by Martin Koolhoven, it is split into four chapters concerning the life of Liz (Dakota Fanning), a mute housewife who lives with her husband and two children on a farm in the old west. When a pompous new preacher (Guy Pearce) turns up in town, she recoils in horror from a man who's tormented her all her life.
Well made but prone to recycling genre cliches, Brimstone is needlessly nasty, and Koolhoven misses no opportunity to decorate his sets with viscera.