Witherspoon: Who says a reel woman can't have it all?

Reese Witherspoon with Home Again writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer (far left).
Reese Witherspoon with Home Again writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer (far left).PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA

LOS ANGELES • Reese Witherspoon does not want to spoon-feed Hollywood cliches to audiences.

Among them - romantic-comedy heroines can seldom have it all. They are either professionally successful and unlucky in love or great with the kids and unfulfilled at work or in the bedroom.

But in Home Again, a comedy due out on Friday, Witherspoon's character is a walking empowerment meme, complete with a wardrobe of pristine white blazers.

She is a newly separated 40-yearold, the mother of two precocious girls who starts a promising career as an interior decorator and hooks up with a hot 27-year-old.

"It never would have even crossed my mind that she couldn't be all those things," writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer said. The 30-year-old is the daughter of two film-makers: Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer.

She spent her formative years on movie sets before making her directing debut with Home Again.

Witherspoon said: "In certain ways, Hallie knows more about the movie business than I do."

Witherspoon, 41, has lately taken a big leap as a film-maker herself, starting a production company to focus on projects led by women, with hits such as Wild (2014), Gone Girl (2014) and, earlier this year, the HBO mini-series Big Little Lies.

The latter, about mothers in wealthy Monterey, California, starred Witherspoon and actress Nicole Kidman, among others.

Speaking by telephone from her Los Angeles home - and pausing briefly to greet Tennessee, the youngest of her three children aged 17, 13 and four - Witherspoon spoke passionately about the changing roles for women on screen and how she wants to be a part of that.

These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Here is a twist - your character in Home Again has a hot and heavy romance with a younger man and she does not even apologise for enjoying it.

I do not know that I have ever seen that on film in a way that the woman is not some sort of creepy predator. She is actually just a woman and she is appealing to a 27-year-old guy.

I thought, why do we continually see this with leading men, but we never see a woman in this position? I have dated younger guys, but I just never saw a movie about it.

It just underlined to me that we need more perspective in film, we need to have different voices telling these stories.

Otherwise, how does society change?

Why do you think the romantic comedy has fallen out of favour as a genre?

The romantic comedy as it existed 15 years ago is just not viable.

I think people know that every life does not have a happy ending and they are not going to be forcefed some idea of what romance is.

Also, people know their lives are not necessarily defined by one romantic relationship solving all their problems. So there is that reality check. But I do not think of this as a romantic comedy, I think of it as a modern comedy.

It is those life decisions that change the course of human experience, and a woman's experience, that are just as big in scope and as profound as any kind of big thriller movie. Because we have all faced those decisions.

Aside from Legally Blonde (2001), your career has not been sequel-driven. How does it feel to have fans clamouring for another season of Big Little Lies?

We had no idea there was going to be such a reception for it and it has just been fantastic.

I think people really want to see older women on film, women working together on film. I have never had an opportunity to work with my contemporaries in that way - we all had leading parts and got to dive deep on character. They should be making more shows like that.

Do you go into studio meetings now armed with data to show how much demand there is for this programming?

Sometimes. It is empirical data that there is an audience there and they want to see programming with women in it, of all ages and of every colour. Even the responses from other women in the industry were like, "Yes!". They were writing to Nicole (Kidman) and me constantly, going, "This is amazing! Can I be in it next time?"


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2017, with the headline 'Witherspoon: Who says a reel woman can't have it all?'. Print Edition | Subscribe