“Your Place or Mine” is the story of two best friends named Peter and Debbie who slowly come to realize that they are a perfect match. The film, which debuted on Feb. 10, is a bit of a throwback to the glory days of rom-coms, a period in the 1990s and early aughts when Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey and other spunky stars met cute to the delight of moviegoers. And that’s not just in the casting of Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher, veterans of the genre, in the two central roles, or that “Your Place or Mine” was written and directed by Aline Brosh McKenna, who previously penned “27 Dresses” and “The Devil Wears Prada.”
“What we always intended to make was a really premium romantic comedy that would resonate with an audience that wanted to watch a movie that would bring them joy,” says Lauren Neustadter, president of film and TV at Hello Sunshine, Witherspoon’s media company. “People love Reese and Ashton in this type of movie, so that’s an exciting thing to see them together.”
More from Variety
But there’s a twist on the well-worn formula. “Your Place or Mine” isn’t appearing at the multiplexes — it’s available on Netflix, which has become a destination for rom-coms thanks to streaming hits such as “The Kissing Booth” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.” In many ways, the service has served as a bridge between older fans of the genre and those who came of age a decade after its “Notting Hill” and “Sweet Home Alabama” heyday. And it comes as traditional studios have largely moved away from these types of movies in favor of superhero adventures and action epics. There have been a few exceptions, such as last year’s “Ticket to Paradise,” which starred George Clooney and Roberts and grossed nearly $170 million globally, but those are few and far between.
“I don’t think the audience went away,” says Neustadter. “It’s just movie studios became more interested in four-quadrant event films, and rom-coms got lost.”
It was something that Witherspoon herself noticed in 2018 after she watched Netflix’s “Set It Up,” a love story with Zoey Deutch.
“Why aren’t there more romantic movies?” she tweeted. It was a message that sparked think pieces and attracted more than 14,000 likes. Afterwards, Witherspoon sat down with Neustadter and told her she wanted to develop more movies in the genre. The fruits of that conversation can be seen in two new Hello Sunshine projects, “Your Place or Mine,” as well as “Something From Tiffany’s,” a rom-com with Deutch that was released by Amazon in December.
In the case of “Your Place or Mine,” viewers jumped at the chance to watch Witherspoon and Kutcher slowly fall in love. Debuting over Valentine’s Day weekend, the film was in the top 10 in 92 countries. In its first 10 days, it had 56.7 million views, topping the charts for English language movies. It held on to its crown in its second weekend with 53.8 million hours viewed.
“I’ve decided to see this as an exciting new frontier,” says McKenna, who has been brushing up on how to understand the new metrics for success. “There’s no point in being nostalgic for the old way of releasing movies. Instead, I’m embracing the new world.”
Plus, McKenna says she had grown disillusioned with the amount of pressure that came with releasing a movie in theaters — if it didn’t put up huge opening weekend numbers, it was often written off as a bust. That’s difficult for rom-coms, she argues, which often need word-of-mouth to slowly build an audience.
“For people in my genre, that Sunday after your movie opened was very nerve-racking,” McKenna says. “It’s fun to have a packed house seeing your film, but it was just becoming so difficult. And the reality is that a lot of people like to watch these movies at home with their friends and family.”
“I’ve been doing this since 1991, and I feel like I’ve gotten astute about seeing who is in the mood to tell these stories, and in Netflix I found a place hungry for them,” she adds.
But McKenna says she’s eager to learn as much about the data surrounding “Your Place or Mine’s” performance as she can because she thinks it can help her get other rom-coms made.
“I want to be able to show people that there is an audience for these movies,” she says. “It’s not a gut feeling. There’s metrics. Until the decision tree at movie studios looks like the population at large, which it still doesn’t, all underserved groups of folks will have to be able to point to data to change minds.”
As for Hello Sunshine, the company plans to keep making movies about people falling in love.
“People are starved for these stories,” says Neustadter. “A movie like ‘Your Place or Mine’ reminds them what they’ve been missing.”
Best of Variety