Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks reunite for the first time since 1998’s You’ve Got Mail in Ithaca — the former’s directing debut — but they’re merely stick-figure peripheral players in this egregiously clunky and phony coming-of-age story based on William Saroyan’s 1943 novel The Human Comedy.
In upstate New York circa 1942, tween Homer (Alex Neustaedter) takes a job as a telegram messenger, which forces him to deliver WWII death notices to enlisted men’s families but also gives him the chance to discuss hurdle-jumping with boss Tom (Hamish Linklater) and the meaning of life and war with drunken telegraph operator Willie (Sam Shepard). There’s no rhythm to any single scene in this hokey tale, nor to the way in which sequences have been put together — the action is hopelessly ungainly.
Meanwhile, narration from Homer’s serving-overseas brother Marcus (Jack Quaid) teems with eye-rolling platitudes. (It comes from letters sent home and conversations he has with a fellow infantryman who’s unnaturally interested in Ithaca.) Ryan furrows her brow as the mother of Marcus, Homer, and their cutie-pie little sibling Ulysses (seriously), while Hanks does even less — literally; he just stands around staring meaningfully — as the ghost of her husband.
Set to a countrified score by John Mellencamp that further douses everything in down-home treacle, it’s the rare film to miss its every mark.
Directed by Meg Ryan
Opens September 9, various theaters