In what I like to call a royal flush, the restaurant below my apartment is loudly bumping Drake’s “Tootsie Slide,” a car alarm is going off, and a man with an accordion is playing two notes over and over again outside my window while my roommate listens to the Harry Potter audiobook in the next room at 9 a.m. There is also a global pandemic.
The uncertainty of survival, financial solvency, and societal collapse slow down the initial days of quarantine into a numbed, panicked, gloop. I scramble to make a routine for myself — reading? Exercise? Calling old flames at 2 a.m.? My roommate says she watched an incredible movie last night. It’s called Home Again. It stars Reese Witherspoon as a recently divorced 40-year-old mother of two named Alice. She crosses paths with a group of three late twenties men who are in Los Angeles to get funding for a movie that did well in short form at South by Southwest. The three boys Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky), and Teddy (Nat Wolff) meet Alice and her friends at a bar after 27-year-old Harry charms her over to their table. Then, through a bit of movie magic the boys end up staying at Alice’s house because they have no other place to stay and a romance flourishes between Alice and Harry.
I first watch this movie at night sitting on my startup brand mattress nestled into a huge fluffy yellow-duckling-colored comforter with cushion-y headphones from Walgreens and stumble down an experiential rabbit hole that cannot be un-stumbled.
The Alice-Harry chemistry feels immediate and permanent — real in a way that exists outside the realm of art, outside the realm of human time. He looks at her with fluttering lids and a smirk across a table of friends. He has an intoxicating blend of innocence and confidence, boldness and flirtatious reticence. He is lanky and tall. Despite his slight build, there’s something physically commanding about his presence. This physicality and persona seem to convey that he is boldly pursuing her, but with a kind of freshly nubile naiveté. His physicality emotes a softness, a boyishness, but he plays it off as a puckish trickster.
Their connection shakes me deeply awake. All the switches that have been turned off are now turned on. Anything that has been made sad has now been made happy. Any whiff of hopelessness is now converted into high octane hope, an abiding belief that love and truth and beauty will expand out through the rest of time. It feels like a warm glow that will envelop my soul and protect me. My dreams will come true, love will prevail, we will all be safe from the elements.
As someone who spends a lot of time and money constantly nursing and fine tuning my mental health, this B-rated, mommy-porn rom-com is a miraculous cure-all not just to pandemic anxiety and dread, but for all anxiety and dread, here, now, and forever. I finally and instantaneously believe that life is benevolent and will offer me countless blessings. I am grateful for my current life and have faith that love will be a generative and constant heartbeat, shielding me from all that is not for me. Love is abundant! Happiness is possible! Your dreams can come true, and will.
I watch the eye fluttering flirtation scene every night before bed for a while. I watch a few other scenes of them falling in love as well. If anyone calls during my Home Again time I quickly silence the phone and throw it under the bed. It is my shot of goodness before I fall into unconsciousness, and relinquish myself to a softer kind of uncertainty. It revitalizes me and promises me that life is generous and kind. With this talisman of awareness I am lulled into an acquiescence and surrender towards the fates, my mind and body relax, sleep gently carries me away from the day.
Leaning into a swoon has a uniquely emboldening effect. It quickens the blood — caught in a building energy that is vacuum sealed away from time and other earthly phenomena — like you’re in high school sitting on your plush carpet late at night in a big T-shirt waiting for your boyfriend to sneak in your window while a train whistles off in the distance as the moon beams down on you approvingly.
The YouTube algorithm notifies me of the existence of a video that someone made titled “harry & alice <3” that is a supercut of the romantic scenes from the movie overlaid with an overblown and jarringly jaunty ABBA song “Does Your Mother Know.” This video of all my favorite scenes is surprisingly, uncomforting and offensive. My deep and abiding immersion into the true spirit of being is not a YouTube video. It is not a commodity, or merely a sum of composite parts. The vacuum seal on my private existential fantasia leaks.
I am also studying the characters so much that the original transcendence begins to feel itchy as I pay too close attention to the physical reality of the acting. I begin to feel the separation between the performer and the lines. I become increasingly aware that they are actors saying words from a script. The lines written for Harry seem slightly off to me now — sometimes grandiose or situationally uneven in a way that feels unnatural. Reese Witherspoon’s facial reactions sometimes seem lax, imprecise, or awkward. The shoelaces of the fantasy loosen and threaten to untie in my brain. The hope injection still works but the movie is now becoming a movie to me. An object of the material world.
I watch a few of the scenes again at night but with a nostalgic sheen as if I am revisiting a memory from an event long ago. I feel the warmth of witnessing two old friends tell the story of how they first met. I feel that the world is good but I am more of an observer of the world instead of a participant of it. I do not experience the world as saturated in a single feeling or the knowledge of an all-encompassing truth. Instead, I gaze at the glow of the embers and think about heading inside.
To desire, is itself joy.