Hello? Netflix customer service? Yes, I’m calling to let you know about a glitch with Your Place or Mine (2023), one of your recent rom-coms . What? Yes, that’s right. The one with Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher. Exactly. It’s just that you seem to have left out all the “romantic” and the “comedy” bits from the movie, so it’s just kind of this bland and flavorless mess that drags on for nearly two hours. On top of that, it also falls into what I consider some pretty tragic ruts with regard to gender roles. Yeah. Not great, indeed. Anyway, mistakes happen and it’s not the end of the world or anything, but you might want to flag it in your system or recategorize it to horror or something to spare other people the torture of watching.
Way back in the dark ages of 2003, Debbie (Reese Witherspoon) and Peter (Ashton Kutcher) hooked up precisely once. We are witness to this tryst via flashback, which, for some reason, also annotates many of the early aughts fashion choices (flat-ironed hair, wallet with chain, trucker hat). Is this to distract us from the fact that Ashton Kutcher and Reese Witherspoon are not twenty years younger in the scene? Is it because they think we’re not that bright? Or did they just think it was funny? It’s an enigma for the ages.
In the here and now, Debbie and Peter begin talking while both their heads are still resting on their high-thread count, ecru-colored pillowcases, which are on opposite sides of the country, in diametrically opposed kinds of houses, embedded in vastly different lives. That’s right! Debbie and Peter went from one-night hook up to absolute besties who talk every day and swear up, down, and center they tell each other everything. (Spoiler: no, they do not.) This particular day is Peter’s birthday and, as we watch them get ready and chatter away in a split screen, they make plans for Debbie’s upcoming trip from Los Angeles to New York, where she’ll be staying with Peter while attending an accounting course. They also debate the merits of mementos (Debbie is pro, Peter is con). Peter lives in an ultra-modern, sparsely furnished apartment in Brooklyn where the only pops of color come from the books, which are organized by color. Debbie lives in an eclectic, cluttered bungalow where her peasant skirts are tucked in beside a plethora of denim skirts and jackets. (For some reason she dresses like she lives in the Midwest.) Debbie is practical, organized, and entirely focused on providing for her young son’s needs. Peter is aloof, distant, and entirely focused on not making lasting connections. They speak about their one-night-stand with such fervent tones of disgust that you know at least one of them still carries a Statue of Liberty-sized torch for the other. They also, sadly, have the chemistry of a damp paper towel. Seriously, Rice Krispies and milk have more action than these two can muster.
Debbie is raising her son Jack (Wesley Kimmel) on her own since his father “does better” when he has space to mountain climb ten months of the year. Debbie says this is fine and “it works for him. It works for me.” Cool. Cool. I see we’re just continuing the narrative of letting fathers off-the-hook when it comes to being present because it’s just “what they need to be happy,” while simultaneously shaming mothers who then carry the entire mental load of parenting for their sometimes zealous caution and attention to detail. Absolutely stunning work.
We also learn that Debbie is traveling to New York to attend a course to become a senior accountant, which is absolutely not the dream she had in her twenties when she thought she’d become an editor, but it will allow her to pay for Jack’s eczema medication, which will soon cost her $1,000 per month. Yowza. Look, I’m all for whipping a few drops of dire dystopian reality into a fluffy rom-com batter just to see how the taste of acrid futility and human suffering balance out a fantastical sentimental love story, but you really need to be committed to following through on the blending to get effective results. This movie, however, is not so committed; it just kind of drops that truth bomb about making ends meet and then goes back to everyone chirping at Debbie about how she should really learn to kick back and relax a little more, stop worrying so much about Jack, and go follow her bliss. Peter tells her that she practices Saran wrap parenting because she’s so tightly wrapped around her kid, WHO, I MIGHT ADD, HAS A FATHER WHO IS LARGELY ABSENT AND A LIST OF ALLERGIES LONGER THAN MY ARM. I mean, why is the knee-jerk response of the people who are supposed to love her best in the world to absolutely throw her under the bus? Her friend Alicia (Tig Notaro) also suggests that, while the course is good and all, what she really needs is to find a man, get waxed, and get laid. Can sex and relaxation be good things? That’s rhetorical, obviously. But where is the empathy? Why is no one saying, Fuck yeah, you feel like you need to be careful and cautious and that’s completely understandable given the huge mental load that you’re carrying. Your ex-husband is an irresponsible twit, dead-set on following his bliss over being any kind of parent, which leaves you holding the entire bag of responsibilities. Your kid has 18 billion food allergies, which is terrifying to navigate and for some reason this movie has chosen to make him kind of a snit about the fact that you work hard to make sure he has options at birthday parties, which he finds “embarrassing.” Uh, okay. I mean, most kids I know with food allergies are pretty relieved and excited when they find there’s allergen friendly food at a party, but maybe in LA where every other frickin’ person has a very special strict diet that practically requires a shaman to administer, it’s somehow more taboo for him to not eat what everyone else eats? You’re trying to make ends meet by working in a stable job that you don’t love, but one that you know will provide financial security for both you and your child, which is, like, what a lot of people do? And, phew, that’s a lot and not ideal. I wish there was a way for you to be able to get paid for what you love to do instead. And I hope that in all that you can find some time to step back and find some moments just for yourself, because that’s still really important, you know? But, wow, is that hard to do. But maybe when you go to New York, you could go out and find a nice anonymous guy to bang for a few nights if that’s your thing? Or take a bath? Or take a nap? Or whatever else fills your cup.
But I digress. When Debbie’s babysitter bails at the last minute, Peter decides to drop everything and fly to LA to take care of Jack so Debbie doesn’t have to miss her course. He feels indebted to her for all the times she’s helped him out and all the times he hasn’t been there for her. Debbie is skeptical, but agrees. Peter is pumped. Or, I think he’s pumped? Ashton Kutcher doesn’t really express emotions in this movie and generally looks ill-at-ease and like he’s concerned he might have forgotten about somewhere else he needs to be. [ETA: One of steadfast readers informed me that Ashton Kutcher is living with a nasty autoimmune disease, so all the solidarity to him.] Anyway, they swap places, because NOTHING spells romance quite like separating your leads by nearly 3,000 miles and a time zone. Bring it!
Once in LA, Peter rents a Porsche, picks Jack up from school, scoffs at all of Debbie’s rules, and is determined to “fix” everything in a week. Ah, yes, how does love bloom if not by disrespecting people’s most basic needs and expectations? He also begins to discover that there are things that Debbie has not told him. (Gasp!) For example, she did not tell him that Jack likes to play hockey but is not allowed to play on the team lest he get injured. Peter just canNOT believe that Debbie didn’t tell him about this, because she tells him everything and because Jack’s young hockey career is obviously all about his very grown-up ego, so that makes sense. They also discuss how Jack’s friend Wade (Mystic Inscho) has stopped speaking to him because Jack no longer plays hockey, which clearly means that Wade is an absolute tool, but somehow manages to sound like Debbie is partially to blame for being overly cautious. Um, excuse me very much? Since when is it unreasonable to have misgivings about your kid—who we’ve already established has some non-negligible medical costs and is also apparently allergic “to the gym” and “to grass”—playing a high contact sport before their voice has even changed? Will no one cut this woman an inch of slack? They will not because when Jack and Peter arrive home to find the house covered in post-it notes left by Debbie, Peter points out to Jack that she’s “crazy,” which I guess he means in an endearing way? But, really? Maybe she just doesn’t have much faith in your ability to keep another human being in one piece for an entire week, Peter? I’m guessing it’s that, but either way, I adore that he’s saying this directly to her young child. Really imprinting the right ideas on the next generation of men. God, women’s expectations are, like, so unreasonable, kid. Let’s just ignore them and do whatever the fuck we want instead. Then he throws the frozen meal she made in the trash, orders takeout, lets Jack watch Alien, and doesn’t ask him to do his homework. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I am already swooning! Oops. No. Sorry. My mistake. I was just slightly lightheaded from how hard I rolled my eyeballs.
Meanwhile, in New York, Debbie is discovering that Peter’s apartment, while luxe and high end, is barely lived-in. The silverware is still in its packaging and the glasses have price tags stuck to them. But she barely has time to tut-tut about how much Peter has spent on drinking glasses before Minka (Zoe Chao) shows up at Peter’s door dressed in an upscale hoodie and nothing else. It turns out the two used to date, and she was hoping for a hook-up, but she would be just as happy for the opportunity to take Debbie out for a drink and discuss why Peter is “so, like, emotionally broken?” Geez, how absolutely fun for Debbie that she gets to spend her first time alone in a decade analyzing her perpetually immature bestie!
So, while Peter embarks on a sure-to-fail campaign to “rebrand” Jack by bringing Wade and his new friend to watch the Kings play, Debbie and Minka hit up an exclusive club where they talk about Peter and Debbie’s lack of a love life. Look, I don’t hate Debbie and Minka together. If they could wrench their conversation away from Peter these two might have some real potential! Also at the bar that night is Theo Martin (Jesse Williams), editor of Duncan Press, who Debbie recognizes from across the room and absolutely fangirls over because “they publish the best contemporary fiction on earth.” Honestly, I love this line for how absolutely stilted it is. (Minka adds that she only reads celebrity bios and that her favorite is Rob Lowe’s first one. Minka is bizarre and I don’t hate it.) Of course, Minka sees this as an opportunity for Debbie to get some sex and insists they go introduce themselves. During a rapid-fire trivia quiz about Duncan Martin’s most obscure titles, which Debbie passes with flying colors, Debbie and Theo produce more romantic sparks than Debbie and Peter manage to muster, like, ev-AR. Why is this movie not solely about Jesse Williams’ face? I mean, his pants. I mean, his romantic arc? Another enigma wrapped in a riddle!
All this talk of books leads to Minka revealing to Debbie that Peter has written his own novel that he keeps stored in his oven. (Not a euphemism.) What?! You mean to tell me that Peter has also not been telling Debbie every-damn-thing? Color me shocked. Instead of doing something sexy like, say, respecting the heck out of Peter’s boundaries, Debbie reads the entire novel, loves it, poses as an editor, and gives it to Theo to read and hopefully publish. Now, you know what’s going to happen in the short-term in the Theo and Debbie department, right? It rhymes with bow chicka wow wow. Meanwhile, in keeping with our theme of disrespecting the boundaries and privacy of the one you supposedly love, Peter allows Jack to try out for the hockey team. Uh, how? He’s not even his legal guardian. Does he just stun them with testosterone fumes? Whatever. I’m getting off course again. The point is that these two people proceed to completely undermine each other’s choices in the name of “taking chances” and pushing each other to be some “better version” of themselves, which is entirely based on the version of themselves that existed twenty years ago, which leaves no room for the idea that PEOPLE AND CIRCUMSTANCES CHANGE OVER TIME, FOR THE LOVE OF EVOLUTION, which they should know since they’ve been TALKING TO EACH OTHER EVERY SINGLE FUCKING DAY. I’m honestly so confused at this point that I feel like this script may have been written with the aid of many blended drinks.
Even though we all know exactly where this movie is headed in terms of an ending, I’m not going to give you all the spoilers. I do need to tell you, however, that there is a part where Jack tells his mom that his time with Peter has been the best week of his life, and I just want to know why this movie is so determined to entirely grind this mother under its heel?! He then goes on to say, “Look, I know you’re afraid of stuff. Sometimes, I am too, but I don’t want that for us anymore.” And I’m not exaggerating when I say that I nearly unhinged my jaw and swallowed my laptop whole to make it all stop. First of all, just say no to the cutesified adultification of children, but especially when it includes a boy mansplaining his mother. Second of all, someone needs to sit this child down and explain to him the difference between fear and risk assessment. Third of all, the ending of this movie was physically painful to watch.
But you know, after that very long screed, I do think if you’re able to switch off the critical part of your brain and just let this movie kind of wash over you, it could be an extremely mediocre rom-com with all the pizazz of a chewed wad of bubble gum that’s still tepidly watchable. But please don’t quote me on that.
4 thoughts on “YOUR PLACE OR MINE (2023): I’ll Just Stay Home, Thanks”
Minka was a delight. Team Minka. She should be the lead of her own something.
Also, I kept thinking that Ashton Kutcher looks really ill….and it turns out he has been dealing with a serious autoimmune condition. No shade to him. Just solidarity for trying to work again. Alas, the Chronically Streaming community demands something more worthy of his and Witherspoon’s talents.
I just had to double check the rating here. Your Place or Mine still beats Cats and Olives. I think that is correct.
I was concerned he might be actually unwell, based on how overly made up he looked. Definitely solidarity. He and Reese Witherspoon deserve much better. But perhaps they are not meant to romance each other?
Definitely not. 0 sparks. On the flip side, everyone is meant to romance Jesse Williams.
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Absolutely. You, me, the supporting iPhone. Everyone.