Mike at the Movies

Home Again (PG-13) ****

The summer has ended for most of us without a great romance. Sad to say, “Home Again” isn’t a great summer romance, but “it will serve.”

Reese Witherspoon (Alice) celebrates her 40th birthday with friends as they commiserate with her on her recent separation from her husband, Austen (Michael Sheen). She has come back home to California where she reunites with her mother, Lillian (Candice Bergen), a former actress in her husband’s movies. (He left the scene permanently in 1974.)

Flattered by the attention of three wannabe filmmakers, Harry, George and Teddy (Pico Alexander, John Rudnitsky and Nat Wolff), Alice invites the boys to move into the guest house at her estate. She and Harry are immediately drawn to each other even though she is 40 and he is 27. Clearly, there will be issues, especially when it turns out that “he doesn’t do the right things enough.”

The real stars of the film turn out to be Alice’s daughters, Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) and Isabel (Lola Flanery). Isabel is a fledgling playwright, and she works with writer George on her one-act for school. All three of the guys bond with the girls and the house becomes, as a friend of Alice’s points out, “Full-time child care, text support and sex.” That’s true for Harry and Alice, but troubles are ahead, especially when Austen returns from New York to try to reignite things with Alice.

Harry is handsome but he often seems to be an “actor” rather than a person, and he gets irritating. George is a sweetheart. Accused of falling for Alice, he denies it, “What? You think I’m in love just because I love her personality, her hair and her way of life?” The scene at the school in which George, Isabel’s mentor, is late while she waits in the wings presents one of the most beautiful young faces in film I have ever seen. Her little sister’s line delivery is droll, cute and perfectly modulated. She will steal your heart.

“Home Again” is not perfect, but you’ll probably love this film anyway. Incidentally, for what it’s worth, I was the only man in the theater when we saw it!

IT (R) ****

If you suffer from coulrophobia, approach with caution. If you don’t have this, you don’t need to know what it means. Figure it out. A cast of kids led by Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) and Beverly (Sophia Lillis) are all losers. In fact one of them, after breaking his arm, has a “friend” write on his cast “LOSER” and then alters it with red pen by changing the “S” to a “V.”

In the opening, Bill loses his little brother, Georgie, to a clown in the storm drain. The clown, who is the villain of the piece, is known as “Pennywise” (Bill Skarsgård) and is seemingly indestructible with very flexible mandibles. The losers first have to deal with a gang of bullies led by Nicholas Hamilton as Henry. The stoning of the bullies by the losers is a memorable scene in the film, even though it spawns even more retributive violence later. The losers are a diverse group with a Jewish boy on the verge of his bar mitzvah, an African American boy, an overweight boy and a girl. In fact, it is the girl, Beverly, who becomes a strong second lead, interacting with the studious but overweight and awkward scholar, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor). Ben, Bill and Beverly are by far the strongest members of the young cast.

For much of the film the soundtrack carries the suspense. The score is by Benjamin Wallfisch, an Englishman who was an apprentice to Hans Zimmer and wrote the score for “Annabelle,” a recent horror flick. In fact, the movie for much of its long length seems to be an aimless montage of horror scenes with no driving theme other than the clown. Eventually it becomes clear that Stephen King’s point is that fear never wins and together even kids can defeat evil. Not exactly a new idea, but it serves.

A feature of the film is the raunchy mouth of Finn Wolfhard as Richie. He serves as constant comic relief until he falls under the influence of fear and even then has some quick responses. Lillis is outstanding as the tomboyish Beverly, and Lieberher’s Bill is a stuttering triumph as the leader of the pack. There are some loose ends and the credits foretell a sequel, which may or may not be a good idea, but all in all, this is a scary summer frolic featuring blood and mayhem.