In the directorial debut of screenwriter, Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada, My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), Your Place or Mine follows two best friends, Debbie (Witherspoon) and Peter (Kutcher), who met in the early 2000s after playing poker one night. Hitting it off from the get-go and offering audiences a glimpse of the cringe-worthy timeline with Pop-Up Video-type labels across the screen, the two clearly show to the audience they have palpable chemistry, as they are unable to get their hands off each other. But as it’s just a lot of making out and Debbie peeling back her multi-layered tops while Peter is in his earring phase, something feels incredibly out of place between the two, and it’s almost as if the chemistry is being forced.
Fast-forward to 20 years later and the pair are just best friends, staying connected through digital technology with FaceTime and “good morning” texts. Debbie is a single mom to 13-year-old Jack (Wesley Kimmel), whom she shares with a never seen on-screen, ex-husband named Jimmy. Meanwhile, Peter is just bad at relationships while keeping busy in his brand consultant job. In the first 10 minutes, he even proves this after talking to his girlfriend (Vella Lovell), who breaks up with him after he can’t define their relationship. It’s at this moment that the film devolves into a super formulaic assumption and plays to the trope of “the guy who is terrible at relationships is only this way because he’s in love with his best friend.”
As we learn more about their routines, we realize Debbie is a creature of habit with her son in Los Angeles, whereas Peter thrives on change and minimalism in New York — a backdrop used to highlight their very opposite natures. Debbie is somehow unable to get any of her friends or family to care for her son as she plans for some east coast travel to complete her studies. Recognizing how important her studies are to her, Peter decides to look after Jack and swaps places with Debbie a la The Holiday. With the pair switching it up for a week, it’s in this dynamic apart from each other that they learn how what they think they want, might not actually be what they need.
While Kutcher and Witherspoon might be synonymous with romantic comedies in their own respects and are a dream pair for the big screen, it’s disappointing to see their connection falling short and not clicking in the scenes they share. Much of their interactions are filmed in split-screen mode with Debbie and Peter conversing over FaceTime or telephone, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for these A-list stars who have shown audiences more depth with co-stars in other projects. The lack of chemistry between Kutcher and Witherspoon is incredibly loud and doesn’t feel one bit natural.
This could be blamed either on the direction or the sheer fact that the split-screen techniques utilized were ineffective tools for creating a more inclusive dynamic for Peter and Debbie, further creating relationship challenges for the actors. Adding to the upset, the characters just don’t feel fleshed out enough and at times, lacking any reason why the audience should care about them.
But while the two leads suffer from a lack of sparks, the interactions they each share with their co-stars in scenes work quite well. Kutcher and Witherspoon are supported by an incredible cast including Tig Notaro, who plays the pair’s mutual best friend Alicia, a mom of two and Jack’s teacher. Playing her part most thoughtfully and with a particularly dry, sharpness, Notaro, along with her cast mates, proves the stars are not an issue in this film — it’s the story. Take, for example, Steve Zahn as the kooky Zen neighbor of Debbie that constantly maintains her garden. While playing the usual twang of roles he is loved for from his catalog, he still brings immense joy to the film and is always fun to watch. The same goes for Zoe Chao, who is exceptional in everything she does and plays one of Peter’s ex-girlfriends who befriends Debbie while in New York.
Even young Wesley Kimmel, the nephew of late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, playing the hockey-loving yet “allergic to everything” son of Debbie, does a stellar job of being a kid who wants a bit of normalcy in his life. Topped off with Jesse Williams playing the dreamy love interest of Debbie, the Grey’s Anatomy alum plays the dream boat role down to a tee and brings a ton of sparks to his dynamic with Witherspoon for a blossoming relationship that looks legit.
Though Witherspoon and Kutcher each bring charisma and charm to their scenes and make this all the more watchable thanks to their magnetism, Your Place or Mine is a sad waste of their talents. Witherspoon is, as always, a delight on screen and plays the cute, quirky character unaware of her best friend’s affections most amicably. Kutcher has an alluring charm to him that works well, and while he shies away from one-dimensional characterization as Peter, he falls right back into it by the end—which is more the story’s fault than his own.
Your Place or Mine has a decent premise with a great cast and is fun at times with moments that are sweet and showcase great potential for an enjoyable rom-com, but it never hits the mark and only works in pieces. Conflated with pacing issues and a tepid kind of humor that generates mild laughs and scoffs, the movie is formulaic and is sadly missing the emotional depth to make it a memorable watch. From the get-go, the film works hard to be likable as it progresses through a relatable digital medium, but it’s hard to tell what the movie wants to be as it dips into a terminal case of predictability and keeps disconnecting.
Your Place or Mine comes to Netflix on February 10.