Back in 1990, I bought a first novel called A HOME AT THE END OF
THE WORLD by Michael Cunningham and quickly devoured it. The
characters were richly drawn, the plot was offbeat, and the prose was
lyrical; there were sentences that were so well-written with so much
insight you instantly were aware that the author was someone special.
The novel remains as one of my favorites and I've passed on followed
Cunningham's career through his subsequent novels FLESH AND BLOOD
(which served as the basis for a moderately successful stage adaptation)
and the Pulitzer winner THE HOURS (which became one of the best films
of 2002) to his nonfiction portrait of Provincetown, Massachusetts,
LAND'S END. And I'll be in line to get his next book when it is published.
Now almost 15 years since his first novel was published, the film
adaptation is hitting screens. The movie marks the directorial debut of
the award-winning stage director Michael Mayer and boasts a
screenplay written by Cunningham. Usually when a book is adapted
to the screen, another writer tackles it and makes changes that
sometimes are not for the best. In the case of A HOME AT THE END OF
THE WORLD, the alterations and their flaws rest with the original author.
I wish I could say I loved the movie as much as I loved the book. In the
transition from page to screen, much has been cut and telescoped
to fit into a ninety minute running time. This is one of those cases where
more might have been better.
I know that one should only judge the film on its merits alone, and
in that case, I have to say it's a mixed bag. The story centers on two
childhood friends, Bobby (played as an adult by Colin Farrell) and
Jonathan (played as an adult by Dallas Roberts). The film opens with a
young Bobby who worships his older brother Carlton (Ryan Donowho)
and who is traumatized by an accident involving the older sibling.
A teenage Bobby (Erik Smith) befriends Jonathan (Harris Allen )
much to the consternation of Jonathan's mother Alice (Sissy Spacek).
Alice tries to prove how "cool" she is by smoking dope and dancing with
Bobby, but when she comes across the boys fooling around sexually
together one night, she is at a loss.
Somehow, she still accepts Bobby and he eventually becomes more
like a member of the family, particularly after his father dies and
Jonathan moves to New York to attend college.
Time passes and Alice and her husband Ned (Matt Frewer) are set
to move to Arizona for Ned's health, leaving Bobby feeling abandoned.
He calls Jonathan and before you know it, he's in New York, moving in
with his childhood pal and Jonathan's eccentric roommate Claire (Robin
Wright Penn). By this time, Jonathan is openly gay, although he and
Claire share a deep bond and even joke about having a child together.
Soon, Claire sets her sights on Bobby and before you know it, they're in
bed, causing Jonathan to leave.
The three reunite for a funeral and tension mounts with a
confrontation and a revelation. The trio then attempt to create an
alternative family, but ... Well, that's for the movie audience to discover.
Mayer proves a strong handler of the actors and the three principals
offer terrific performances. Colin Farrell is outstanding as the passive
Bobby, while Dallas Roberts impresses in his first screen role. Robin Wright
Penn does some of her best work as the older, complicated Claire. Sissy
Spacek, though, is wasted in the role of Alice. Her character has much
more to do in the novel and casting an actress with Spacek's reputation
and skill and then not utilizing her well is a major flaw in the script and the
None of the other supporting players really make an impression,
again, more because of the failure of the screenplay which concentrates
more on the major characters. And where many of the confrontations
and dramatic scenes in the novel seem organic, in the film they feel
forced, as if cut and pasted.
Overall, because I am a fan of the novel, I was disappointed in the
screen version of A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD. The actors,
especially Farrell, try valiantly, but in the end, they succumb to the
missteps of the filmmakers.
MPAA Rating: R for strong drug content, sexuality, nudity,
language and a disturbing accident
Running time: 90 mins.
Viewed at the NewFest, Loews Cineplex Entertainment 34th St. Theater.
|A Home at the End of the World