From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "The Hours" comes a story that chronicles a dozen years in the lives of two best friends who couldn't be more different. From suburban Cleveland in the 60s, to New York City in the 80s, where they meet an older woman, the film charts a journey of trials, triumphs, loves and losses. Now the question is: can they navigate the unusual triangle they've created and hold their friendship together? Written by
Clare loves Jonathan, who loves Bobby who..., well, loves everybody. Bobby is either straight or homosexual or bisexual or asexual, depending on where you are in the movie. A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD is a relationship movie wherein everything hinges on the relationships, but those relationships remain strangely ill-defined.
Achingly sincere, A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD strives for an easygoing reality, not fully appreciating that easygoing can also mean meandering. To its credit we are never sure where the film is going to take us, but to its detriment, the film doesn't seem to know either. The film relies on JULES AND JIM math -- one guy plus one guy divided by one girl equals melodrama -- as a way of exploring the changing social landscape of America from the laid back sex-drugs-and-rock'n'roll sixties to the early days of the AIDS epidemic. It covers a lot of ground, yet doesn't seem to really go anywhere.
The best part of the film is the beginning, before most of the main stars even make an appearance. Set in Cleveland, first in 1967 and then in 1974, the film has some gentle fun looking at suburban attempts at being mod and trendy, while romanticizing drug use and rock music. These are little Bobby Morrow's formative years, where one by one he tragically looses members of his family, leaving him an orphan by age 14. He befriends nerdy Jonathan Glover in high school and ultimately becomes part of the Glover family, whom he seduces with his genuine charm, gentle optimism and an apparently always ready supply of marijuana. It is also where Bobby and Jonathan begin exploring their sexuality. Even with it's discomforting approval of casual drug use, this is where the film is most successful, in the way it deals in an honest and intelligent way with blossoming sexuality and the awkwardness of being a gay teenager.
The film really deals with original ideas in these early stages, but that is just meant to be a foreshadowing of the main storyline, which, unfortunately tends to be rather trite and clichéd.
The bulk of the story takes place in 1984 and thereafter, as the adult Bobby (Colin Farrell) heads to New York to live with Jonathan (Dallas Roberts), who is now more or less openly gay. Jonathan is living with Clare (Robin Wright Penn), a gay guy's gal pal (i.e., fag hag) who is your standard New York City kook, complete with punkish magenta hair, crazy clothes and unconventional ideas that don't seem all that unconventional anymore. Clare loves Jonathan and wants to have his child, but she seduces and becomes pregnant by Bobby, who we suddenly are expected to believe isn't gay at all. The three continue to live together as something more than roommates, but something less than a marriage. And the film sorta-kinda explores the nature of this three-way union.
As a result we get three, or at least two intriguing characters who get lost in a story bereft of a dramatic point. And a perfectly good gay love story becomes an unconvincing a love triangle, where each member ends up playing odd-person-out at some point.
The most troublesome part of the story is that the character of Clare even exists. Clare's main function is to keep Jonathan and Bobby apart as lovers, even as her pregnancy is a gimmick designed to keep them together as family. And though the film is pro-gay on the surface, there is the suggestion that Clare has somehow cured Bobby's homosexuality and the added insinuation that Clare and Jonathan could both find true love if only he didn't have that darn quirk of wanting to sleep with guys. This is a gay love story which wants to avoid being a gay love story. Also, Robin Wright Penn is just not an interesting enough actress to bring any pizzazz to the stereotypical role of a bohemian kook and offers little reason to see why both Bobby and Jonathan are devoted to her. The character itself is a nuisance. Clare exists as a beard, a plot contrivance designed to turn a gay love story into a straight love story.
The main character, however, is Bobby and Farrell does a fine job playing him as a repressed man-child. There is no trace of the bravado that has made up Farrell's on-screen and off-screen reputation, only a gentle sweetness. Unfortunately, this causes an inconsistency in character. As played at age 7 by Andrew Chalmers and at 14 by Erik Smith, Bobby is an open, articulate, engaging free spirit. When Farrell picks up the character at age 24, Bobby has suddenly become repressed, shy and child-like. Even realizing the various hardships that marked Bobby's early life, his sudden display of emotional retardation is jarringly illogical. And though Farrell is good, it is the excellent performance of Smith as the teenaged Bobby that really defines the character.
The best thing about HOME is Dallas Roberts. As the adult Jonathan, he makes the character seem typically gay, without seeming to be stereotypically gay. His Jonathan views Bobby with love and lust as a friend, and with resentment and distrust as an ersatz favored sibling. Roberts embodies the conflicted nature of Jonathan better than Michael Cunningham's screenplay would suggest possible. Also, Sissy Spacek has some fine moments as Jonathan's mother. She is particularly effective in a scene where Mrs. Glover has just discover Jonathan and Bobby in a compromising position. The ensuing scene finds her distraught, not because she realizes that Jonathan is gay, but that know she must accept as fact what she had already suspected. It is poignant moment.
Had A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD been made in 1967 or 1974 or even 1984, it might have had an impact. Now, so much of it is, if not cliché, at least ordinary: the supersensitive gay man in love with a straight man; the flower child/mother hen/earth mother with a penchant for gay men, the alternative family unit, the odds and ends bits of feminist dissatisfaction and even the climatic special guest appearance by AIDS. The story's one original element is the naive (yet controlling), gay (yet straight), passive (yet dominating), eager to please (yet vaguely self-centered) Bobby, but the film shies away from either exploring or challenging the character. Indeed, the filmmakers even made a point of editing out a shot of Farrell's full frontal nudity; likewise they edited out his sexuality which is the linchpin of all the relationships. They don't want to reveal too much of the character and in the end they reveal too little.
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