At the heart of Aline Brosh McKenna’s directorial debut “Your Place Or Mine” lies a personal story.
The Netflix rom-com stars Reese Witherspoon as single mom Debbie, who lives in Los Angeles with her son Jack (Weslely Kimmel) and Ashton Kutcher as New York-based bachelor Peter, who have been good friends for 20 years. Debbie originally plans to stay at Peter’s apartment with him in order to finish a masters accounting program so that she can get a new job, but when her babysitter cancels at the last minute, Peter offers to fly to Los Angeles to watch Jack so that Debbie can complete her degree.
“On the most surface level, it’s personal, because I stayed in my friend Ted’s apartment when he was a bachelor. So that was the inspiration,” she said. “My husband (Will McKenna) and I were friends long distance for a while, and it was in a time before cellphones and the Internet, which our kids like to make fun of us for saying that, but if I wanted to call him I had to [dial the phone], and then wait for it to ring. And so I always felt like we almost missed each other.”
“There was a point where I had lost his phone number, and then I ran into him on the street in New York, and if I hadn’t run into him on the street, [my sons] might not be here,” she added.“I don’t believe in fate or destiny, what I believe in is there are opportunities served up to you by your life, and you either grab them or you don’t.”
The night Peter and Debbie met, they slept together, and at the time it seemed like just a one night stand.
“I think that 20-something women will relate to the idea that you meet somebody and go, ‘Someday he will have his shit pulled together, but today is not that day. And this morning, I’ve woken up and seen what his bathroom looks like. I think I’ll give him a few years.’” Mckenna told TheWrap. “That’s what happens in this case. It’s not that she’s not attracted to him or that they’re not compatible. It’s just that she can already sense that he has a long way to go.”
Jack’s father Jimmy, who is named after McKenna’s dog, can’t come watch him because he is off hiking mountains and having adventures.
“I know so many single moms that have reached a nice stasis with their ex where the idea that they would ever be involved again, is ridiculous And that’s really where they are,” McKenna said. “Jimmy has moved on and she’s moved on and they co-parent, and the issue is not the co-parenting. The issue is really [that] Jimmy’s the one who’s moved on with his life and [Debbie] really hasn’t.”
This changes when Peter’s ex Minka (Zoe Chao) encourages Debbie to approach Theo Martin, who she recognizes as the top editor at Duncan Press, one night when they are out for drinks. Minka also mentions the manuscript for a book that Peter wrote, which he keeps hidden in his oven. Balancing a budding relationship with Theo, Debbie also gives him Peter’s manuscript because she sees promise in it, and she fakes being a book agent to get Theo to read it.
“One of the reasons [Peter] never told her is because he doesn’t really want to admit to himself that that’s what he’s doing and cares about and [Debbie]’s like a walking diary for him and if he feels like he can keep it from her can kind of keep it for himself,” McKenna said.
The existence of Peter’s book “The Boy” makes Debbie realize that they don’t actually tell each other everything like they think they do. Peter realizes the same thing as he settles into her house in LA and meets gardener Zen (Steve Zahn), who has the hots for Debbie.
“[With Peter and Debbie] getting to know each other differently by being in each other’s spaces, that’s one of the things they learn about each other — he really wants to write and she cares passionately about those things, and it’s going to change her whole career.” McKenna said.
Debbie constantly emphasizes the need to be practical as a single mother, which is why she sacrifices her love for reading for an accounting job that will make more money to cover her son Jack’s allergy and eczema medicines. She currently works at Jack’s school and while Debbie makes every detail of Jack’s life her business, he stays in his own teenage boy world.
“One thing I don’t respond to in movies is, often, the children are super involved in their parents’ personal lives and really interested in it,” McKenna said. “I think that children at that age are sort of delightfully selfish.”
“You’ll notice at the end of the movie, when [Jack] says, You need to be courageous. He’s not really saying be with the man you love,” McKenna adds. “He’s saying, let me play hockey, which is what he really cares about. And he’s saying, I know you’re afraid and I’ve been afraid, and I don’t want us to be afraid anymore.
Books ultimately bring the couple closer together, as well as friends on both sides of the country encouraging them to take a chance. Debbie ends up doing so both in her professional life and in her love life.
“It’s just giving herself permission to do the heart thing as opposed to the head thing,” McKenna says.