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Home at the End of the World, A Print E-mail
Thursday, 22 July 2004
ImageBased on a novel by Michael Cunningham (who adapted the screenplay), “A Home at the End of the World” is an enormously affecting film about an unconventional relationship between three people who are trying to balance sincere love with a sneaky desire for some sort of formal definition that eludes them.

“Home” begins in 1967, introducing us to Bobby as a child (Andrew Chalmers), who has a relationship of unconditional love with his incredibly cool big brother (Ryan Donowho). A tragic accident robs Bobby of his brother (and, we learn, his mother soon after), but it cannot destroy his good spirit. Seven years later, Bobby (played as a teen by Erik Smith) befriends shy schoolmate Jonathan (Harris Allan). As Bobby’s father drifts further into being unable to cope, Bobby spends more and more time at Jonathan’s house, bonding with his warm parents, Alice and Ned (Sissy Spacek and Matt Frewer). In a very relaxed way, Bobby and Jonathan begin “fooling around” with each other – a discovery that Alice takes more or less in stride. By 1982, Jonathan (now played by Dallas Roberts) has moved to New York, while the adult Bobby (Colin Farrell) is still living with Jonathan’s parents. When Ned and Alice decide to move to Arizona, Bobby is ready to go with them, but they gently nudge him out of the nest, so he heads east to join Jonathan. Jonathan is living with the bohemian Clare (Robin Wright Penn), who is in love with her gay roommate. For awhile, Jonathan, Clare and Bobby cohabit happily. Then Bobby and Clare become lovers and Jonathan feels like an extra wheel – but he’s the glue that binds them together. When Clare becomes pregnant, the trio tries to make a go of it as a family.

There are a lot of other films that deal with the fluidity of relationships, but few do it as gracefully as “Home.” Director Michael Mayer, making his feature debut, has a very light touch, never hammering home tragedy and never elbowing us in the ribs with the humor. When, for instance, Alice walks in on the teenaged Bobby and Jonathan sharing a joint and Bobby amiably invites her to partake, another movie would turn it into either a crisis or a cartoon. “Home” – and the excellent Spacek – make the moment both hilarious and unforgettable because it’s so real. We see Alice thinking it over, realizing how she thinks she should react, discovering how she wants to react and finally accepting the offer (as her son Jonathan quietly reels at the fact of having his mom not only knowing he’s doing something forbidden, but sharing the experience with him). The tangle of emotions between Jonathan, Bobby and Clare – with everyone wanting a little more out of the situation than it’s possible to get, and Jonathan and Clare both striving mightily to emulate Bobby’s real adaptability – is something that is very common in life, but less so on film. Movies often seem to feel that they don’t have enough time to set up anything that isn’t instantly recognizable as a convention, and when they try, they often become awkward. Mayer and Cunningham present everything with gentle humor – we’re often amused and always touched, but they avoid a sense of spectacle. What’s going on here is distinctly offbeat, but we’re encouraged to empathize with it – most of us have taken steps to accommodate loved ones, even if they aren’t the steps taken by the characters here.

Farrell sheds the tough, intense persona he’s displayed in some big-budget fare to be absolutely convincing as Bobby, a soul who is open, loving and a bit more innocent than the average adult. Penn gives us both Clare’s “look at me!” flamboyance and the diffidence underneath – she’s a woman who makes bold moves while being just a bit worried as to whether they’re the right ones. Roberts brings intelligence, reserve and tenderness to the adult Jonathan, and Spacek is as warm and real as she can possibly be.

The soundtrack is full of evocative period music, from “Don’t You Want Somebody to Love” to “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle” to “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.” Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” turns up, as does Patti Smith’s incendiary cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Because the Night.” Duncan Sheik’s original score smoothly flows in and out of the well-chosen musical landmarks.

“A Home at the End of the World” is one of the rare films that explores unconventional relationships and, instead of tripping over explanations, makes us feel as though we’re part of the nonconformist family.

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