Sentimental ‘At Home’ falls short of the mark

  • By Robert Horton / Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, July 29, 2004 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

The last Michael Cunningham novel to reach the screen was “The Hours,” an Oscar-winning effort that told three stories on parallel tracks.

“A Home at the End of the World,” an earlier Cunningham novel, has now been filmed. This movie has a more linear story, but is less satisfying as an overall experience.

The opening reels, set in a late 1960s-early 1970s childhood, get the picture off to a promising start. We meet an offbeat kid, Bobby, who overcomes a family tragedy to bond with Jonathan, another quiet boy at a suburban school.

When they are adolescents, the boys experiment sexually. Jonathan is pretty obviously gay, but Bobby is more of a feral child, trying anything. The music and fashions of the era, and a right-on performance by Sissy Spacek as Jonathan’s mother, make these scenes come to life.

Jump ahead in time, and join Bobby (Colin Farrell) as he journeys to New York City to meet up with Jonathan (Dallas Roberts) after a long break. The two men have a complex relationship with Jonathan’s roommate, Clare (Robin Wright Penn), who’s something of a wild child herself.

The ever-shifting dynamics of this threesome take them out to the countryside, with an old-fashioned house replacing their cool Manhattan apartment.

First-time film director Michael Mayer, who has had considerable Broadway success (including an acclaimed revival of “Thoroughly Modern Millie”), worked from a script written by Michael Cunningham himself.

On a basic level, the somewhat sentimental ideas in the film don’t quite arrange themselves into a movie. There isn’t sufficient urgency or momentum to propel this collection of reasonably nice scenes.

The acting is sensitive, with Colin Farrell admirably capturing the strangeness of Bobby. Still, the character rings a bit too good to be true. (Some pre-release publicity was generated by Farrell’s irritation at the cutting of his full-frontal nude scene – but it would be difficult to argue for the relevance of such a scene in the movie as it stands.)

“A Home at the End of the World” is a civilized movie, maybe a little too much so. Scenes go by tastefully, but you need either more pizzazz or the sharp corners of “The Hours” to make something like this spring to life.

Robin Wright Penn and Colin Ferrell in “A Home at the End of the World.”

“A Home at the End of the World” HH

Lacks momentum: The friendship of two boys, one gay and one practically feral, from suburban childhood to New York adulthood. Sensitively done, with a fine central performance by Colin Farrell, but overall it lacks momentum and urgency. From Michael Cunningham’s novel.

Rated: R rating is for language, subject matter.

Now showing: Egyptian.

“A Home at the End of the World” HH

Lacks momentum: The friendship of two boys, one gay and one practically feral, from suburban childhood to New York adulthood. Sensitively done, with a fine central performance by Colin Farrell, but overall it lacks momentum and urgency. From Michael Cunningham’s novel.

Rated: R rating is for language, subject matter.

Now showing: Egyptian.

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