What makes a great romantic comedy? Is it option A, the absurdly attractive romantic leads masquerading as average Joes and Janes? Is it option B, the juicy, far-fetched and highly preventable misunderstandings that bring them together? Or maybe it’s option C, the moment when their eyes meet or their shoulders brush and you think, “Yup, they’re endgame.”
I argue, option D: none of the above. Netflix’s film Your Place or Mine, released Feb. 10, includes all these signatures of the rom-com genre. And yet it is decidedly not great, in any shape or form. Even Rotten Tomatoes agrees with me, awarding the movie a measly 32%, and IMDb is not much more generous, with a 5.6 out of 10.
So, what went wrong? I found myself asking this, bewildered and disappointed, as the end credits flashed across my screen. I mean, is the plot an odd combination of The Holiday and Love, Rosie? Yes, yes it is. But, arguably, every romantic comedy is a rip-off in some way or another, given their heavily formulaic construction. It still seemed like a promising movie, or at least an entertaining hour and 51 minutes of my life.
In the film, Debbie is just your run-of-the-mill single mom, trying to balance her ambitions with her responsibilities at home. She also just happens to be played by the stunning Reese Witherspoon. Her best friend, Peter, is an emotionally stunted playboy with a soft spot just for her. He happens to be played by the very attractive Ashton Kutcher. So, option A, check.
Debbie and Peter decide to switch houses for a week and don’t communicate how they feel about each other. They then proceed to lie and hide stuff from each other, hook up with other people and make huge oversteps in each other’s lives without asking. Needless to say: option B, check.
Interestingly, because Debbie and Peter are not in the same state for most of the film, there isn’t much room for heart eyes or yearning. Mostly, their sappy, romantic moments consist of constant, lengthy phone calls — sometimes even in the presence of their actual significant other. Peter also surprises Debbie with champagne, and Debbie leaves herb plants around Peter’s apartment. So, even though there isn’t any physical contact for most of the film, there are plenty of hints that they’re endgame. Option C, check.
So what was this film missing? Simple. A spark. A hint, any sort of whiff of chemistry or tension. Something that makes us go, yes, it makes sense that they are holding back repressed romantic feelings for each other. Of course, they’re into each other and always have been. Duh.
But for most of the film, Debbie and Peter are not obsessed with each other, love or relationships. Their whole lives don’t revolve around each other. They’re not looking for a partner or a soulmate or the love of their lives. Debbie is just trying to finish an accounting program, so she can earn more money to care for her son. Peter’s working through his unresolved issues with his father, his battle with addiction and his struggles as a closet writer.
Leading me to the conclusion that Your Place or Mine struggled not because it was a bad romantic comedy, but because it wasn’t really a romantic comedy at all. It was a movie that happens to heavily feature a romance, but at its heart, it’s more about the choices we make and the chances we take or don’t. It’s more of an observation that it’s easy to step into another person’s shoes and see what needs to be fixed, but it’s harder to salvage our own shortcomings.
The problem was that it couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. Did it want to be sappy and lean into the will-they-won’t-they trope? Or did it want to have actual character growth? In the end, as a result of trying to juggle both, it failed to convincingly pull off either. There was one silver lining: At least we got to see Jesse Williams as Debbie’s competing love interest.
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