Neil Young’s Film Lounge – A home at the End of the World

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD

5/10

USA 2004 : Michael MAYER : 93-96 mins

When A Home at the End of the World was shown to journalists before its world-premiere at June 2004’s Provincetown Film Festival the assembled press were reportedly so distracted by a full-frontal shot of Colin Farrell’s penis they couldn’t concentrate on the rest of the film. The film’s distributors took rapid action, excising the ‘show-stopping’ footage before the first public screening. It’s a shame that their scissors didn’t continue to snip out every other frame featuring Farrell – a very talented actor seemingly poised on the verge of very big things indeed, but who contributes easily the lousiest performance of his career to date in this so-so adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Michael Cunningham. The success of The Hours – also based on a Cunningham book – was presumably crucial in propelling this earlier tome to the screen, and while Cunningham does a fair job of condensing his own text down to feature length (one major character – Erich – is completely absent) the film does end up feeling like a precis of the book, rather than a full-blooded adaptation capable of standing on its own two feet.

Over the course of ninety-odd minutes we skip forward from 1967 to 1974 to 1982, tracing three pivotal stages in the life of the “beautiful, crazy boy” Bobby Morrow, “a strange and mysterious creature.” As a 9-year-old child in Cleveland, Ohio, Bobby (Andrew Chalmers) is traumatised when he witnesses his free-spirit hippy-dippy older brother Carlton (Ryan Donowho) die messily after accidentally running through a plate-glass window while stoned. Seven years later, high-schooler Bobby (Erik Smith, looking eerily like a young Farrell) – whose mother has died by this stage – gets to know geeky Jonathan Glover (Harris Allan). The pair’s friendship rapidly deepens into something more serious, and when Bobby’s father passes away, he moves in with Jonathan and his parents (Sissy Spacek, Matt Frewer).

The bulk of the narrative takes place in the early eighties in New York, where Jonathan shares a flat with kooky hat-designer Clare (Robin Wright Penn). Though Jonathan is openly and actively gay, he’s being lined up by Clare as a prospective father for her child – until she meets Bobby (Farrell), who has moved away from the Glovers and is working as a baker in Manhattan. Fluid in his sexual preferences, Bobby embarks on a relationship with Clare – which doesn’t go down too well with the unhappy Jonathan. But when Clare’s child is born, the self-proclaimed “funny family” decide set up home together in rural, upstate Woodstock.

A Home at the End of the World is a long way from the of star-studded lavishly-appointed production accorded to The Hours. This is a visibly low-budget affair, with Canadian locales standing in unconvincingly for New York – there’s an especially distracting rooftop scene in which we get a very good look at the “Manhattan” skyline. This shoddiness also extends to period detail – though the 1967 and 1974 sequences have a pleasing Ice Storm ambience, the final, lengthiest section never feels remotely like 1982, with both Bobby and Clare sporting some especially unfortunate choices in the hair and clothing department. In several scenes Farrell sports perhaps a hair-piece that looks as though a black cat has falled awkwardly on top of his head, and it’s a merciful release for the audience when Claire trims his locks into a stylish flat-top variation.

But while Farrell certainly looks the part – images from this film will no doubt adorn countless teenagers’ walls of both sexes – whenever he opens his mouth to speak, the film grinds to a halt. Bobby Morrow is presumably meant to be some kind of Kerouackian “holy goof,” a cross between James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and Jim Caviezel’s Private Witt from The Thin Red Line – but he comes across as merely amiably dense. It doesn’t help that Farrell repeatedly indulges in ‘eyebrow acting’ of a kind not seen since Roger Moore’s heyday, furrowing his forehead as Bobby mouths some profound-sounding inanity.

It also doesn’t help that he has so many scenes with Roberts, who manages to turn Jonathan into a fully rounded three-dimensional character, while Spacek makes a telling impact from her relatively brief appearances as his mother. Wright Penn – she’s had her teeth straightened, which leaves only Patricia Arquette among the ‘Hollywood holdouts’ in the dental department – meanwhile gradually feels her way into the tricky role of Clare, who turns out more rather more interesting than her wackily-dressed boho image might suggest.

For all its faults – and at its worst the film does feel like a clangingly fake series of exercises for writer and actors – A Home at the End of the World establishes a not-unengaging minor-key character of its own, and deserves credit for coming to a quiet halt just at the point we fear it’s going to tip over into tragic melodrama: we’re always hovering on the edge of pretentious awfulness with talk of “the big beautiful noisy world” delivered with a straight face, but somehow debutant director Mayer just about keeps control of his material. Apart, that is, from Farrell’s wayward contributions.

It’s admirable that such a fast-rising star seeks out such low-budget, relatively low-profile projects – and sometimes, as with InterMission, he stumbles across a gem. But it’s an odd coincidence that A Home at the End of the World sees Farrell playing a bisexual man who’s never actually depicted having a homosexual experience – when advance word on his upcoming Alexander blockbuster suggests a similar coyness prevails there also. Such reticence is depressingly predictable for a megabucks ‘tentpole’ release – it’s even more disappointing to find it in the ‘indie’ side of things as well.

21st October, 2004
[seen 9th October : Odeon, Nuneaton : press show – Cinemadays event]

by Neil Young