A Home at the End of the World

on July 23, 2004 by Bridget Byrne
Novels are usually stuffed with unspoken thoughts and feelings, which are often not easy to translate to film. The characters whose inner emotional turmoil is the fabric of "A Home at the End of the World" come close to making a full transition from page to screen, perhaps because Michael Cunningham has adapted his own book and found in director Michael Mayer someone who trusts his actors to handle the complex task of displaying to the audience the unspoken desires they have trouble conveying easily to each other, or even understanding themselves.

The story begins in Ohio in 1967, jumps to 1974, and finally settles in urban and rural New York and Arizona in the early '80s--a passage of time that inevitably creates some jerkiness on screen, though the actors who play the very young (Andrew Chalmers) and teenage (Erik Smith) Bobby Morrow, eventually portrayed by Colin Farrell, are convincing embryos for the final characterization.

Farrell, at first stuck with annoyingly unconvincing hippy hair, emerges as something of cipher for this whole theme of innate desire for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in a society that believes, often against its own instincts, that there is a format that will achieve this goal. Fate has never seen a rule it can't and won't break, hurling both tragedy and hope at the both the rule-keepers and the rule-breakers.

The story seeks the source and comfort of love in most of its forms--familial, brotherly, maternal, sexual, sensual, transitory, eternal... and many combinations--in life and beyond, and inside and outside the boundaries of convention, expectation and surprise. Farrell captures the passive force of Morrow, a catalyst, despite and because of his goofy immature sweetness, while Dallas Roberts is sharply adept at projecting the sad knowingness of Jonathan Glover, whose family Morrow moved in on when his own was demolished. The love they shared as boys has altered with the definition of their adult sexuality--a love complicated by the neediness of Clare, who struggles to be the free spirit she thinks she should be. Robin Wright Penn doesn't hesitate to honor the less sympathetic aspects of this character, who has not been authored with the touches of charm that illuminate the two men in this variation of a "Jules and Jim"-style love triangle. The geometry of entangled desire for the elusive security of love is further complicated by the chemistry injected by Alice Glover, Jonathan's mother and Morrow's surrogate parent--a woman whom time and circumstance took down a path Clare has shunned. Sissy Spacek's performance as Alice brims over with humor, heart and deep-seated yet restrained emotion, entirely free of any of the self-consciousness that sometimes mars this movie's brave attempt to explore the inner complexities of human interaction. Starring Colin Farrell, Dallas Roberts, Robin Wright Penn and Sissy Spacek. Directed by Michael Mayer. Written by Michael Cunningham. Produced by Tom Hulce, Christine Vachon, Katie Roumel, Pamela Koffler, John Wells, John N. Hart Jr. and Jeffrey Sharp. A Warner Independent release. Drama. Rated R for strong drug content, sexuality, nudity, language and a disturbing accident. Running time: 95 min

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