*Touching Home (PG-13)
Kimball's Peak Three
In sports and in life, often we find ourselves cheering for the underdog. And sadly, sometimes despite our dreams and devotion, the underdog just doesn't come through. Occasionally, it's that way with a film, too.
I so wanted the out-of-left-field indie film, Touching Home, to be a clear winner; first, because it's a film with a great behind-the-scenes story (more on that in a moment), and also because it's got some Colorado connections (including baseball scenes filmed with the Colorado Rockies). But in spite of my home-team hopes — and one especially compelling lead performance — I'm forced to admit that in some ways, it comes up short.
In fact, rooting vainly for the underdog is a theme that runs through the movie. First-time filmmakers and identical twins Logan and Noah Miller, wrote, directed and star in the semi-autobiographical story of life with their father, a man whose hard drinking and gambling left him homeless, stuck living in his battered pickup truck, and eventually dead.
According to the true story — not the fictionalized version in the film — before their dad died alone in a jail cell, the Miller sons pledged that in the next year they'd make a movie dedicated to him. And somehow, they've done it — with no money, schooling, experience or previous connections in filmmaking.
Even more unbelievably, they've done it with four-time Oscar nominee Ed Harris in the lead role as dad. Reportedly, they accosted the acting heavyweight in an alley following a film fest in California and sold him on the role with little more than sheer enthusiasm.
Now for the film's story: It follows twin brothers (here named Lane and Clint Winston) as they blow a pair of opportunities as rising baseball players and end up in a small rural town working in a quarry with their down-and-out dad, Charlie.
One twin seems to take the setback in stride, settling into a blue-collar life, hanging out with old buddies (Evan Jones, Brandon Hanson), and even courting a local girl (Ishiah Benben). The other twin, however, holds onto hope that another try at baseball will finally bring success, and he starts saving for a trip to spring training.
Likewise, the twins have different approaches to their father. One wants to give up on him after years of disappointments, and the other retains hope of having a relationship.
Unfortunately, what could have been a deeply moving story of family longing, misguided hope and human failings ends up skimming the surface too frequently. A handful of scenes truly deliver, most often led by Harris, including one at the quarry in which he asks the brothers to join him for a meal (after having hugely disappointed them again). Their quiet rejection causes not only their dad, but the entire audience, to squirm. In fact, each time Harris is on screen, he subtly yet masterfully captures the sorrow of a man who will never be the man that he intends.
What the film (and future efforts) could use is time for the Millers to develop — not only as actors (they shout, rather than emote, too often), but also as directors and storytellers. They hinder their tale with too little Harris, too many characters who are then underused (Lee Meriwether as Grandma, Brad Dourif as Uncle Clyde), and too many distractions (the romance, the buddies) that squeeze out the story's better-playing scenes.
You may not stand and cheer at the end of this film, but you won't regret watching it, either, because the players put forth one hell of an effort.