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Home At the End of the World, A  (2004)


Starring: Colin Farrell, Robin Wright Penn, Dallas Roberts
Director: Michael Mayer

Rating: R

Distributor: Warner Independent

Release Date: 07.23.04

Review Posted: 07.30.04

Spoilers: Minor


By Sara M. Fetters


Farrell Hits "Home" in Story of Family


If anyone needed proof that Irish actor Colin Farrell was more than just another pretty face, they would need look no farther than the “A Home at the End of the World.” Based on the acclaimed novel by The Hours scribe Michael Cunningham, Farrell is – quite simply – sensational. A breathy lamb lost amidst the headlights of the world, the actor turns in a nuanced, tour de force performance that screams Oscar. As good as he’s been in works as varied as “Tigerland,” “Phone Booth,” “Daredevil” and “Minority Report,” he outdoes himself this time, elevating a rather cluttered (and slightly tired) narrative into a near-unforgettable experience.


The story itself is a rather unique examination of home and family. Following the emotional maturation of Bobby (played by Farrell as an adult), “A Home at the End of the World” doesn’t concern itself with tidy resolutions or easy answers. Instead, its focus is upon internal exploration, the ability to discover and experience all ranges of the human condition both within oneself and in others. Like Virginia Woolfe, so well ahead of her time, Cunningham has the insight to realize family isn’t necessarily a father and a mother but instead sometimes made up by the people we surround ourselves with.


In the case of Bobby, family is something he’s never gotten the opportunity to experience. His older brother died tragically in front of his eyes, while mom and dad both passed due to a heated combination of heartbreak, depression and alcohol before he’s even finished High School. Insinuating himself into the good graces of social outcast Jonathan, Bobby soon finds himself another member of the boy’s family, so much so his new best friend can’t help but become jealous when his parents start treating the newcomer as more of a son than they do him.


Fast forward a few years, Bobby is taking care of Jonathan’s (newcomer Dallas Roberts as an adult) family while the latter has gone to New York City to find himself. As circumstances change, the pair reunites in the Big Apple and estranged friendship – and maybe something more – is reinvigorated. It is here that Bobby meets Jonathan’s free spirit roommate Claire (Robin Wright-Penn, “White Oleander”), a flighty Bohemian beauty with plenty to teach this star-struck babe cowering timidly beneath the big-city lights. Together the trio invents a new kind of family, one that stretches the boundaries of normalcy, their lives ebbing and flowing into one another’s with all the passion of oceanic waves crashing ashore.


Having never read Cunningham’s novel it is readily apparent from what is on display here that it is a complex, emotionally charged piece of fiction daring to touch on a variety of subjects from the benign to the taboo. Spanning over a decade and taking us from childhood innocence to a young adult’s owning up to responsibility, there is a lot going on; far too much for one 95-minute motion picture. Too often the author and Tony award-winning director Michael Mayer (“Thoroughly Modern Millie,” making his theatrical debut) rely upon music video montage and pap emotionalism to get their points across. Characters appear, have a moment or two of importance, and then suddenly disappear and are promptly forgotten while rocker Duncan Sheik’s oppressively maudlin score moans incessantly.


No more is this evident than in the performances of Sissy Spacek (“In the Bedroom”) and Matt Frewer (“Dawn of the Dead”) as Jonathan’s understanding parents. It’s not that both are actors aren’t any good – they’re borderline fantastic – it’s just that they have so little to do that’s not a cliché. Frewer’s big scene consists of a father-son chat with Farrell where he implores the young man to get out and take advantage of the wide world in front of him. It is a testament to both that this scene comes off as well as it does – it really is an inspiring moment of introspective evaluation – for as staged it shouldn’t even remotely be of interest.


Spacek does fare better, Cunningham and Mayer giving the veteran actress moments where she can’t help but shine even if they do tend to dip into the contrived. Priceless bits include a clandestine marijuana session with the two boys and a late film monologue where she talks openly about her life and the dreams that might have been. Best of all, a scene with a teenage Bobby where she resorts to teaching the youngster how to bake because she just can’t find the words or the emotions to explain her feelings about what she’s discovered he and her son are doing in the dark. It is a poignant, powerful moment, and shows Spacek at her best, the actress delivering both sparks and tears with a simplicity that transcends celluloid.


Yet, for all of the filmmaker’s flubs, they get so much right and the performances by the trio at the center are so good these flaws dissipate like morning dew. New York stage actor Roberts cuts a pained, tragically biting figure as the elder Jonathan. Even when Cunningham dips into the AIDS well, the actor rises above the ordinary and takes the character into fresh and unexpected terrain I really didn’t see coming. Meanwhile Wright-Penn is extraordinary as Claire and I hope Oscar finally takes notice nominates this superb actress. Her moments of sexual exploration with Bobby, her uncontrolled giddiness so fluidly mixing with respect and astonishment when she realizes he’s a virgin, is wondrous. It is as if she has an internal, instinctive link to the character going well beyond the norm, Wright-Penn doing more with a teary-eyed glance goodbye than most actors do with a histrionic speech.


But, in the end, this is Farrell’s film and he runs away with it like a lioness protecting her cub. Bobby’s evolution from needy usurper of love to patriarchal father figure is astonishing. So good, so utterly precise is he in the role, I cannot imagine another trying to take it on. This performance is a thing of magnificence, the type actor’s dream of giving yet so seldom do, and if nothing else the movie resonates in my loins because of it.


There are numerous other charms, however. Despite the choppy narrative, Mayer knows how to stage a scene and there are moments of such potent vibrancy I could feel chills run up and down my spine. He and cinematographer Enrique Chediak (“The Good Girl”) have a relationship so symbiotic it’s frightening. From images of a canary yellow Claire painted against a dusty Arizona landscape to the sight of Bobby and Jonathan dancing atop a New York city roof, images here will linger in my memory for quite some time.


If it isn’t perfect, “A Home at the End of the World” is still an unforgettable experience if only to see such a group of gifted actors – especially Farrell – transcend the script’s unfortunate limitations. Filled with poetry both audio and visual, this is a film I can applaud and appreciate for it is willing to take chances and showcase performers outside of their comfort zones. If family is something you create, not just a thing you’re born in to, than this is one movie worth getting engaged to.


Film Rating: êêê  (out of 4)


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