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Family values

A review of A Home at the End of the World

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Colin Farrell as Bobby Morrow and Dallas Roberts as - Jonathan Glover in A Home at the End of the World.
  • Colin Farrell as Bobby Morrow and Dallas Roberts as Jonathan Glover in A Home at the End of the World.

A Home at the End of the World (R)
Warner Independent Pictures

So plentiful are the plot holes in A Home at the End of the World, so staggering is its character under-development, and so out of nowhere is its ending that one half expects it to be followed by a PSA from the Office of Narrative Emergency Management. There, a Tom Ridge-like figure would reassure us that everything will be OK, as long as we remain vigilant and go shopping.

This isn't to say the film, which was adapted from a Michael Cunningham novel of the same name, is "bad." That's because even if it provides its audience with dozens of "huhs?" and "what the's...?", at least you haven't seen it before.

The year is 1967, and 9-year-old Bobby is growing up under the loving tutelage of his hippie-go-lucky older brother Carlton (Ryan Donowho). When Bobby walks in on him and his girlfriend having sex, he's comforted with "It's just love." Shortly thereafter Carlton dies in a domestic accident, the specifics of which I won't disclose, only that it is an onscreen death you won't soon shake.

Fast-forward five years and subtract Bobby's mother (she dies of, uh, something) and you have Bobby and his braces-faced, hopelessly shy friend Jonathan, smoking pot and listening to Jefferson Airplane. Jonathan's mother (Sissy Spacek) treats the two boys like brothers. Only these brothers are surreptitious lovers, their relations ill defined and awkward in the way one assumes gay relationships happened before the possibility of teenagers coming out.

Bobby has the calming, slightly aloof charisma that lets him pull off feats of adult-teen diplomacy unthinkable to the mortal teenager. In one enjoyable scene, Alice walks in on the boys smoking pot. Rather than go on the defensive, he convinces her to have a hit and then a few more. They end up dancing.

First time director Michael Mayer gets in trouble when the story jumps to Bobby and Jonathan in their 20s. Bobby, who's now played by Colin Farrell, has remained in Cleveland, where he's lived with Jonathan's parents since his father died. He bakes bread for a living and looks like the missing triplet of Wayne and Garth.

For his part, Jonathan has taken up residence in the East Village with a puckish seamstress named Clare (Robin Wright Penn). When Bobby joins their family, a love triangle soon develops with Bobby shacking up with Clare and Jonathan getting jealous. Then, of course, Bobby and Jonathan's still lingering bond makes Clare jealous.

Mayer seems to prefer time-passing montages (accompanied by a slew of '70s rock favorites) to actual scenes between characters. One soon gets the sense that he believes that without music, his film would grind to a halt. The problem, however, is that it moves too fast. As a novelist, Cunningham is adept at moving seamlessly through time and space while filling in the rich inner lives of his characters. As a screenwriter, Cunningham doesn't have the luxury, and his Bobby, Jonathan and Clare are only shades of actual human beings. When they do things (like run away or throw tantrums), it's hard to fully grasp where they're coming from.

Oh, it should be mentioned that Clare gets pregnant via Bobby, and the three schlep out to Woodstock (yeah, that Woodstock) where the boys open a caf. What's touching and matter-of-factly subversive about this story is its notion of family, namely, that it can be forged in any number of ways at any number of periods in our lives. Whatever the gender-sexuality ratio is, such families suffer the same issues of jealously and anger as any others.

There's no question that this film's heart is in the right place. An excessive soundtrack notwithstanding, Mayer captures a sense of time and place, particularly the bohemian allure of the East Village of the early '80s for those Midwest immigrants seeking freedom in its squalor.

What's missed, however, is not place but actual human beings. People who exist outside a music montage and transcend a flagship positing the idea of a loving, nontraditional American family.

-- John Dicker

Not currently showing in Colorado Springs theaters; opening soon.

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