Add “Your Place or Mine” to the list of split-screen rom-coms, where the stars (in this case Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher) essentially operate on parallel tracks. While that has worked out before (think “Sleepless in Seattle”), it doesn’t here, in a Netflix movie that proves roughly as generic as its title.
Kutcher and Witherspoon received some playful mockery for the awkwardness of their red-carpet photos together, but when you actually see the film it makes more sense, since the two share relatively few scenes. Then again, the movie is as much about real estate as romance, as well as the familiar question of paths taken and not chosen.
Despite a fleeting history described as a “hookup,” Kutcher’s Peter and Witherspoon’s Debbie have been platonic friends for 20 years. They still talk regularly, with him leading the life of a wealthy playboy business consultant in New York (Batman without the cool toys), and her located in Los Angeles, grappling with the challenges of single motherhood to a 13-year-old son (Wesley Kimmel, Jimmy’s nephew), whose allergies make her a trifle overprotective.
Scheduled to spend a week in New York getting a degree that will advance her career, Debbie abruptly loses her babysitting, at which point Peter gallantly steps in, offering to fly to LA and stay at her house and look after her kid while she occupies his luxury apartment.
In the process, they both get to walk a few miles in the other’s shoes (and lives), like one of those reality-TV shows, only with a better musical score and nicer accessories.
Written and directed by Aline Brosh McKenna of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” renown (who also produced along with, among others, Witherspoon and Jason Bateman), “Your Place” hinges on Peter and Debbie learning to appreciate each other’s differences – she’s a stickler for routine, while he’s free-spirited, or “irresponsible” in her eyes – through their house-swap experiences.
That’s weak fuel to keep the wheels churning even on this sort of vehicle, so various subplots emerge, like Peter trying to loosen up restrictions on Debbie’s kid, and Debbie discovering an unpublished book Peter has written, which comes into play when his eager-to-be-chummy ex-girlfriend (Zoë Chao) introduces her to a dashing (and also divorced) publisher, played by Jesse Williams.
Brosh McKenna clearly knows her way around the genre (her writing credits also include “27 Dresses”), as do her stars. The supporting players – including Steve Zahn as a hippie-dippy LA neighbor – are quirky enough to shoulder some of the load.
Even grading on a rom-com curve, though, the structure makes the movie a bit of a slog as it oscillates between Debbie and Peter’s arcs, after the latter has rather feebly explained that the two aren’t together by saying, “Because she’s her, and I’m me.”
“Your Place or Mine” will probably do just fine for Netflix, standing out from a pack of Valentine’s Day-timed rom-coms because Witherspoon is her, and Kutcher is him. But those awkward red-carpet photos weren’t the only part of this exercise that didn’t quite work, whatever place one happens to watch it.
“Your Place or Mine” premieres February 10 on Netflix. It’s rated PG-13.