Reese Witherspoon Tells R29 Why Romantic Comedies Are More Important Than Ever

Photo: Courtesy of Open Road Films.
Reese Witherspoon is the hardest working woman in Hollywood. Fresh off the success of this winter's Big Little Lies, which she starred in and produced, the woman of all trades will appear in Home Again, Hallie Meyers-Shyer's directorial debut (in theaters September 8).
As Alice, Witherspoon plays a woman trying to find herself after a separation, while juggling being a single parent, starting a new career, and playing host to three aspiring filmmakers — one of which is just a little too handsome for his own good.
It's a romantic comedy for the modern age, less about a woman's quest for love, and more concerned with self-acceptance and growth. Produced, written, and directed by women — Hallie wrote and directed, while her mother, famed director and writer Nancy Meyers, produced — Home Again feels like a natural extension of Witherspoon's quest to promote and elevate women in Hollywood, a project she took on full-time in 2012, when she founded her production company turned multimedia brand, Hello Sunshine.
We asked Witherspoon about how having women at the helm impacts her work as an actor, why rom-coms have gotten such a bad rep, and what advice she has for young women trying to get their voices heard.
Refinery29: What first drew you to the movie?
"I love the script. I thought Hallie [Meyers-Shyer] wrote a beautiful story about a woman at a crossroads in her life, wondering if she'll ever find love again or if she'll be able to be a good mother. I think she's just really trying to figure out if she should stay in her marriage or if she should move on. I think it's a lot about finding yourself back in your hometown and your old family house and all the funny stuff that happens around that.
One of the things I loved about the movie was that it tonally felt like a romantic comedy, but it also wasn't just about finding love. Would you consider it a romantic comedy?
"Yeah, I do. I think it's a modern comedy. It has a lot to do with where women are now. I don't think it's about creating false feelings about romance or the need to be in a relationship. I don't want to give away the ending, but you realize her romantic relationship does not define her. So, it's hard to say it's a romantic comedy. It's definitely a modern comedy with some romance in it."

I'm not sure a man would come up with an idea that an older woman dates a 25-year-old man. I don't think that's a concept that would cross a man's mind.

Reese Witherspoon
I feel like I keep reading trend pieces about how rom-coms are dead. Why do you think they've gotten such a bad rep?
"I think it's that, when we talk about romantic comedies 20 years ago, they set up unrealistic expectations for life, and people are much more real and want to see their lives reflected on screen. They want to see romantic conflict resolution seem more realistic and more grounded in reality."
This film was written, directed, and produced by women. How does that impact your work as an actor?
"It's definitely fun to be on a set where a lot of department heads and the producer and the director were all women. When we see women being the architects of a movie and the storytellers at the center of it, and their vision is being executed, you see women differently on film: the way women dress is different; the wardrobe is picked for different reasons; the effects are picked for different reasons; the way men behave around women is different. That's all directed through a woman's eyes, and there's subtleties there that I think really influence society, and makes people think in a different way about a woman's life experience. I'm not sure a man would come up with an idea that an older woman dates a 25-year-old man. I don't think that's a concept that would maybe cross a man's mind. It's definitely something at the center of the story and it's something that occurred to Hallie and had happened to one of her friends. It would take a female director to represent that correctly."
It's been five years since you started Hello Sunshine. Do you think we've made progress in terms of female representation in Hollywood?
"I definitely see a lot of progress. A lot of female directors. This year I worked with two female directors, Hallie Meyers-Shyer and Ava DuVernay. It's been a great experience really trying to get more female storytellers work on screen. That's definitely a mission I feel very attached to."
Lola Flanery and Eden Grace Redfield play your daughters in the movie. What advice do you have for young women who are trying to get their voices heard and trying to break into an industry that's not necessarily female-driven?
"Lola and Eden are amazing actresses. They were very professional and very accomplished in their own right. Very young women who have done a lot of work. They were just incredibly curious and both very smart. So, you know, I encouraged them to observe and ask questions and continue to push the boundaries. I'm sure they both have very bright futures ahead of them."
I spoke to Hallie Meyers-Shyer earlier, and she pointed out how important it was for people to take risks on first-time female filmmakers. Was that something that crossed your mind when you took on this project?
"Absolutely. Ultimately, it's the script and how compelling it was that made me want to do the movie, but then I sat with Hallie and she was wildly impressive and completely understood what was needed to make this project a success. She was just up for every challenge and met every question I had with a very thoughtful response. I was excited to work with her."
What do you hope people take away from the film?
"I think that there's a lot of bad news in the world right now. If people go to the movie to smile and to have a nice time, then, you know, enjoy themselves. It's really a feel good movie, so I'm hoping it makes people feel good. That's a lofty ambition sometimes."
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