I have to admit that I've never been too keen on sudsy melodramas, those Hallmark "Hall of Fame" type episodes about wonderfully quirky families that are supposed to enchant and amuse and inspire us, the ones that should ultimately make us feel all warm and cuddly inside. Just the title of this 2004 film, "A Home at the End of the World," sent shudders of dread up and down my spine when I thought about having to watch it..
OK, that's unfair; I admit it. I really did try to keep an open mind the whole time I was viewing the picture, but I wonder how many other people were put off by the title? By the looks of the movie's box-office receipts, it appears that only the producer's wife and several of the gaffer's cousins went to see it in a theater, so I can't have been the only one. I mean, Eugene O'Neill got away with giving his most autobiographical play the title "Long Day's Journey into Night," but that was a classic dramatic effort with characters we believed in and understood and cared about. "A Home at the End of the World" is more sexually frank than anything you'd see in Eugene O'Neill or a Hallmark movie, but just changing the characters to gay or bisexual and throwing in several nude sex scenes still doesn't make the story much more than a television soap opera.
That said, I also have to admit the film grew on me in time, and I liked it more than I thought I was going to. Not enough to want to watch it again, mind you, but enough to suggest that I did not find it entirely unsatisfactory. It has an easy charm and a generally upbeat mood that keep it moving along at a relatively engaging pace. Most of this is thanks to actor Colin Farrell as Bobby.
Bobby is the movie's central character, whom we see at various ages throughout the plot. He's seen as a child, as a teen, and then, most important, as a twenty-four-year-old adult. In each case, he's sweet and innocent, a flower child of the 60's who loves everyone. The film's director says the story, based on a novel by Michael Cunningham ("The Hours"), is about a search for home and family. It's Bobby's search for home and family and, especially, people to love, that help the movie become as winning as it is.
However, we get so much of Bobby's life crammed into a mere ninety minutes that we have little time to let any of it seep in. Instead of developing any one aspect of Bobby's life, we get little slices of the most dramatic parts of it, here and there, boom, boom, boom, covering fifteen years, and then it ends. There is, in fact, enough material in the script for an eight-hour miniseries or a full season of daytime TV.
The plot begins in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1967. Bobby Morrow (played by Erik Smith) is nine years old and learning about life and love from his older brother, who tells him it's "a big pretty world, man; anything can happen." And anything does happen, because within the span of a few minutes of screen time we witness the older brother in an explicit sex scene with a young woman and then dying in a graphically violent freak accident. The movie is rated R.
Flash forward to 1974 and Bobby (now played by Andrew Chalmers) is in his mid teens. He makes friends with another boy, Jonathan Glover, and together they go through the whole free-love, pot-smoking scene of the day, even drawing Jonathan's mother, Alice (Sissy Spacek), into joining them for a few tokes. Bobby is so totally unaffected and enchants everyone, the movie's characters and the audience. Then the plot twists continue piling on. Jonathan is gay, and Bobby is more than willing to experiment, and before long they are in love. To hurry this situation along, writer Michael Cunningham's script has both of Bobby's parents dying and the Glovers taking him in to live with them. Mr. Glover (Matt Frewer) is conveniently oblivious to his wife's pot smoking and his son's and Bobby's affair.
Anyway, it's the movie's final and longest section, taking place in 1984, that is the most worthwhile. This is where Colin Farrell comes in, playing Bobby in his mid twenties. Farrell had already proved his talent in films like "Tigerland," "Minority Report," and "Phone Booth," but he is surprises us with so gentle and winsome a performance as the one he puts in as Bobby. As an adult, Bobby is the same person he was as a kid, loving and warm and needing desperately to be with people. He hasn't seen Jonathan in years, and comes to live with him (now played by Dallas Roberts) in New York City, where Jonathan rooms with a good friend, Clare (Robin Wright Penn).
Clare loves Jonathan and wants a baby with him, but Jonathan is more interested in pursuing a gay lifestyle. Bobby has never been with a woman before, and it isn't long before he and Clare fall in love and do have a baby. Together, this oddly matched but loving family of three move to the country, buy a house (a home) at the end of the world, and open up a little restaurant (the "Home Cafe," of course) in the nearby town. And more time goes by.
But things are still not "happy ever after." As with all soaps, this one goes on and on. So expect further hardships and tragedies and more big decisions from the three characters, culminating in the requisite teary ending.
Nothing is simple. Certainly, life is not simple. Life extends us a myriad of possibilities. The sweet, ardent, loving relationships of the main characters sustain the picture for a time, as does the gently affecting performance by Colin Farrell in particular. But, ultimately, we realize that not a lot is actually happening in the story that is either original or inspired. And it's then that we recognize we are getting only the briefest of plot synopses here, a quick rundown of events, a highlights reel, and not a seriously developed examination of genuine human needs, emotions, or connections. So, the film ultimately lets us down; but not without a few pleasures along the way.
The picture quality is excellent, thanks to the care Warner Bros. engineers are taking lately in transferring their products to disc. The film's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio is almost completely preserved in a DVD screen size that measures approximately 2.30:1 across my standard-screen HD television. The transfer is anamorphic, enhanced for widescreen, and it is effected using a relatively high bit rate. Colors are quite stable and bright, perhaps a shade too bright, set off by deep blacks. I found a few shimmering lines here and there and a touch of glassiness to the picture, but, overall, it's exemplary video.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 is harder to judge than the video because it's not called upon to do very much. It's true there are a lot of vintage recordings used in the soundtrack, pieces by the Jefferson Airplane, Simon and Garfunkel, and the like, and they show up in varying degrees of stereo and surround. But mostly the movie is about dialogue, which is cleanly rendered in the front center channel. While there is not much range to the sound, not much in the frequency or dynamic extremes, there is no need for it. So, like the movie itself, the sound reproduction is perfunctory; it does its job efficiently, without calling attention to itself.
This was a small, independent film financed by Warner Bros., and it did poorly at the box office. Understandably, the studio would not be too keen on spending any more money than necessary decking it out with special features. What we get, then, is simply a six-minute promotional featurette, "The Journey Home," which includes a few comments from the cast and crew. In addition, there are twenty-six scene selections, a few coming attractions for other WB releases, and a widescreen theatrical trailer for this film. English is the only spoken language provided, but there are subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
Thanks to a totally engaging performance by Colin Farrell, I came away from "A Home at the End of the World" thinking it was a far better picture than it probably is. In fact, as I said in the beginning, the movie is basically a soap opera crammed into much too brief a space. But Farrell's acting as Bobby is so totally likable, he lifts the story from its sudsy roots and elevates it to something worthy of memory. Well, at least if you have a short memory.