There are some elements of A Place for Me that fall into the trap of Hollywood genre cliché, but this is not enough to derail what is another otherwise thoroughly enjoyable debut feature from director Josh Boone. No CGI or special effects needed here to tell what is a somewhat simple but mostly engaging story in which Greg Kinnear plays Bill Borgen, a celebrated novelist struggling to pen his next book who cannot accept that his wife Erica (Jennifer Connolly) has left him and is living with another man. Refusing to concede that she has gone forever, Bill habitually spies on her at home and continues to set a place for her at the various holiday dinners for which American families gather each year and have been such fodder for so many celluloid renderings of family dysfunction (just think Home for the Holidays).
Also in the mix on this occasion are Bill’s teenage children Samantha (Lily Collins) and Rusty (Nat Wolff); she a writer having secured a publishing deal for her first book while he is a high school student secretly in love with the seemingly out-of-his-league Kate (Liana Liberato). Collins is somewhat unbelievable in the early scenes of the film in which we are expected to accept her as a bed-hopping commitment-phobe who demands no-strings-attached sex from random men. Reeling from the break-up of her parent’s marriage, Samantha is determined to avoid falling in love at all costs. Of course, it wouldn’t be a movie if there wasn’t a prince charming to sweep her off her feet and quell her cynicism. In this case, the saviour is Lou (Logan Lerman) who refuses to accept her initial rejections of his overtures and ultimately wins her over – the classic “boy looking after his dying mother” trick does it every time.
The Stephen King-obsessed Rusty, on the other hand, lacks the life experiences that Bill believes he needs to become a great writer. Subsequently, Rusty finds himself embroiled in a series of events that ultimately bring him to the rescue of Kate when she is discarded by her arrogant boyfriend. It is this relationship that creates most of the drama, and brings the family together, as Kate’s inability to control her demons leads her into the darkest territory that the film dares explore.
Although enjoying regular liaisons with married neighbour Tricia (Kristen Bell), Bill has made no effort to re-enter the dating realm, such is his conviction that Erica will return to him. This type of role fits Kinnear like a glove and he is perfectly cast as Bill, while Connelly doesn’t have a lot to do as Erica, a mother desperate to reconnect with her daughter. Yes, it all sounds sickly sweet and soppy, but it isn’t. There are great moments of humour and pathos in equal measure and the family is actually one with which it is quite pleasant to spend some time.
Collins is much stronger in the second half of the film and Lerman is great as Lou, the boyfriend who is almost too good to be true. All of the performances are fine, with Bell particularly amusing as the clinically efficient Tricia.
If you like your movies warm, witty and entertaining then A Place for Me should fit the bill.