*/**** Image A Sound A- Extras D
starring Colin Farrell, Dallas Roberts, Robin Wright Penn, Sissy Spacek
screenplay by Michael Cunningham, based on his novel
directed by Michael Mayer
by Walter Chaw Glib, facile, essentially misguided, and exhibiting a kind of misunderstanding about film craft that sends exactly the opposite of the intended message in every scene, Michael Mayer's directorial debut A Home at the End of the World is a trial from start to finish. It makes appalling soundtrack choices first in establishing period, then in demolishing mood, and finally in screwing up the chronology enough so that the viewer is left completely unmoored. If you're using a jovial Seventies soundtrack to place your film in the Seventies, it's a really bad idea to start using a classic Motown soundtrack when your picture actually moves forward in time. (Not even mentioning what a perverse boner it is to accompany the discovery of a dead father with "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard.") Add to that a screenplay by The Hours scribe Michael Cunningham that displays the same kind of top-heavy, more or less off-base pretension and disdain for such outmoded values as loyalty and generosity, and what you have is a recipe for a very particular kind of disaster.
Bobby is a hippie child of love and light who wanders through A Home at the End of the World like Tom Hulce's blithely retarded Dominick in Dominick and Eugene. (Probably no coincidence that Hulce chose this film to make his producing debut.) After witnessing his Chris Robinson-clone hippie brother walk through a plate glass door as a nine-year-old (but not before he and bro get wacky on LSD and stumble through a cemetery), little Bobby (Andrew Chalmers) morphs into middle-Bobby (Erik Smith), who looks so much like Davy Jones that the movie begins to take on the feel of a really weird, equivalently inappropriate lost episode of "The Monkees". Middle-Bobby becomes hunk-Bobby (Colin Farrell), while his best friend, John (new-Michael York Dallas Roberts), with whom he's been enjoying a summer of circle-jerking and sloppy kisses, becomes a depressed, self-destructive homosexual man (as opposed to the other kind of screen gay guy, the flamboyant comic relief queen) who lives in a little Village apartment with free spirit fag-hag Clare (Robin Wright Penn).
A Home at the End of the World clearly aspires to Jules and Jim, to Threesome, to Cabaret, to 1900, even, in its tale of two boys and a girl (Y Tu Mamá Tambien, The Dreamers) in close quarters. It's shot like a horror movie (which in fairness seems to be the only way to adapt Cunningham's horrorshow prose), giving the wrong tilt to every scene and engendering the feeling that anyone, at any moment, could either die or get fucked by Colin Farrell. Sissy Spacek puts in an appearance as John's repressed suburbanite mother, symbolically resurrecting the roles that Julianne Moore played in The Hours and Far from Heaven (and The Shipping News and on and on), tuning in and dropping out when middle-Bobby offers her a doobie. Thankless Matt Frewer gets tuberculosis or something and dies off-screen--his pivotal moment is as a tin of ashes upstaged by the none-too-subtle suggestion that somebody's going to die of AIDS.
At least you assume it's AIDS (partly because of stray period details, and partly because A Home at the End of the World is unimaginative enough to still want to punish gay men with clinical depression and/or AIDS), but the timeline is so muddy by that point that we're either watching an early-'80s journal of the plague years or have been warped somehow into the 1950s, where a place called "Home Cafe," the eatery Bobby buys and renovates in a "look guys, it's got potential" moment, can exist without irony. If that's happened, John might have Polio instead. In either case, the picture resembles the product of a lot of workshop arguments, a lot of acclaim at places like Sundance, and a lot of lack of imagination in its execution. It's indie derivative, an unusual sort of thing because just the idea of mainstream independent cinema is a relatively new one. It's derivative of garbage, in other words, not of Cassavetes and Jonas Mekas and Stan Brakhage. A Home at the End of the World is this year's The Safety of Objects: it has a pedigree, and it's still a mutt. Originally published: July 23, 2004.
by Bill Chambers The first Warner Independent title to hit DVD, A Home at the End of the World arrives on the format in an impeccable 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of notably good shadow detail. To make a long story short, the studio's recent track record for stellar digital presentations remains untarnished. A Dolby Digital 5.1 soundmix is the only accompanying audio, and though it reproduces dialogue with utmost clarity, the track lacks both breadth and depth. (That being said, the subwoofer coughs--almost as if stifling laughter--as the acidhead fatefully hurdles through a plate glass window.) "The Journey Home" (6 mins.), a promotional featurette, is the disc's only extra besides A Home at the End of the World's theatrical trailer. Therein, actresses Sissy Spacek and Robin Wright Penn, actor Dallas Roberts, and director Michael Mayer think they're recapitulating the movie's themes when really they're filling in blanks. Wright Penn says that her character is "quite lost. The only thing that keeps her intact is to manage everything else around her." Anyone fresh from a viewing of A Home at the End of the World will wonder if she's talking about Spacek's character rather than her own. Before Sunset's trailer precedes the main menu. Originally published: October 20, 2004.