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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Review: ‘Your Place or Mine’ falls short of romance and comedy

The Netflix original’s awkward writing and lack of tension leaves much desired by its viewers.

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I, first and foremost, identify as a voracious consumer of romantic comedies. As far as cinematic experiences go, I am unashamed to announce that one of my best memories was watching “Bridget Jones’s Diary” while sprawled on my sofa, a pack of Pringles in my left hand and a can of Diet Coke in my right. As such, I always approach the release of new rom-coms with a degree of excitement — eager to see whether any new rom-com can make it into my list of favorites (which, as you might guess, is currently topped by “Bridget Jones’s Diary”). This week, I sat down with high hopes for “Your Place or Mine,” a Netflix original starring Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher. 

Witherspoon plays Debbie, a single-mom taking care of her son Jack in a messy, yet quirky Los Angeles home. Kutcher stars as Peter, a successful businessman currently living in New York. While the genre conventions of romantic comedies usually do not offer much room for groundbreaking plotlines, the stereotypes of this movie are predictable to the max. Debbie and Peter — who the movie repeatedly attempts to establish as polar opposites — once hooked up 20 years ago but remain best friends up until the present day. As both characters immerse themselves in each other’s lives again, they discover new aspects of each other and their long-harbored romantic feelings begin to resurface. 

Awkward writing has become a not-so-subtle trademark of all Netflix originals, and this movie is no exception. The interactions are strange and the conversations dry. Even Witherspoon and Kutcher — two people whose careers have been built on charisma — were unable to salvage it. For instance, when convincing Debbie about his ability to take care of Jack while she attends an accounting program in New York, Peter mentions the multitude of things that Debbie has done for him as his friend. Debbie responds by saying she “didn’t do any of those things expecting something in return,” to which Peter, in an intensely dramatic tone, says “of course you didn’t, cause you’re not a monster.” As this scene plays, emotional music crescendos in the background, and the viewer is uncertain why: It is not romantic phrasing or a confession of love. I had to resist the urge to chomp my fingernails. This is just one of the many examples where the movie fails to deliver its intended effect — be it dramatic or comedic. 

Although Kutcher and Witherspoon’s acting in their individual scenes is up to par, their chemistry together is so scarce, it actually feels non-existent. People have even noticed this at press events for the movie: Mila Kunis, who is Kutcher’s wife, emailed Witherspoon to say “you guys look so awkward on the red carpet together.” Looking at Peter and Debbie, there is nothing — either in their body language or the delivery of their dialogue — that feels romantic. Not a single spark flew. They could be siblings, cousins, friends; anything but lovers. If anything, Peter’s scenes with Jack, wherein he slowly becomes a father figure to him, feel more organic and believable. The development of the father-son relationship is slow but solid, and I find myself rooting for them — to become closer as they bond over their shared childhood experiences — more than I was rooting for Debbie and Peter. Throughout the movie, I mourned the regrettable under usage of Kutcher and Witherspoon’s talents, knowing that both of them actually have the ability to breathe life and bring nuance into their past projects.

This movie also has the frustrating habit of introducing quirky supporting characters and potential love interests without ever fleshing them out. Minka, Peter’s fashionable, metropolitan ex-girlfriend, immediately befriends Debbie without any ulterior motive. Zen, the strange man who unsolicitedly works in Debbie’s garden, proclaims his interest in Debbie to Peter but isn’t a threat to the relationship and attempts to serve as comic relief. However, these characters do not drive the plot forward, nor do they add any complication to this movie’s overly-simplistic plot. Rather, they are symbolic of the movie’s attempt to build tension by introducing the possibility of conflict, only to resolve it in the most uneventful way possible — or to forget it altogether. Why bring it up if it is not even relevant? 

There is something incredibly compelling about romantic comedies — it offers a possibility, a fantasy. Everyone, at some point in their lives, has secretly dreamed of a perfect romance that easily and thoughtlessly sweeps them off their feet — the idea of romance without repercussions. Rom-coms serve to appease this desire for the ease that real-life relationships lack. However, plagued with bad writing and a severe lack of chemistry between the leads, “Your Place or Mine” barely fulfills the aforementioned premise of rom-com, both romantically and comedically. Rather, it is a poor rendition of a beloved trope, one that falls disappointingly flat in its delivery and fails to live up to the promise held by its star-studded cast. 

Rating: ★★☆☆☆