There really are people who can charm the birds out of trees, and Bobby Morrow of "A Home at the End of the World" is one of them. Bobby is already enchanting as a suburban Cleveland 9-year-old in 1967, and even more so by 1982 at age 24, by which time he is played by Colin Farrell in a performance, which like those of his costars Robin Wright Penn, Dallas Roberts (in an enviably striking film debut) and Sissy Spacek, will surely rank among the year's best. Directed by theater notable Michael Mayer in his screen debut, "A Home at the End of the World" is an emotional wipeout, the effect of which may well prove indelible, much like the films of James Dean.
By 16, Bobby has lost his parents and an influential, hippie-like older brother (Ryan Donowho), so his need for love combines potently with his affectionate nature and sexy charisma. What makes him irresistible is a seemingly inviolable innocence and a completely open and caring personality.
Bobby is the catalytic figure in this wrenching film of the 1990 novel of the same title, in an adaptation by its author, Michael Cunningham, that honors the spirit if not the letter of the book. It touches on the great truths that love and sex are not necessarily indivisible or immutable, and that in the long run love outweighs sex. Sexual fluidity is a relatively contemporary term for a trait as old as time, and in the years this film spans, such fluctuation in relationships began to surface more uninhibitedly than ever before -- but not without virtually inescapable emotional challenges.
Early on, the film depicts a scene that's such a minefield it's hard to believe it is actually working as it unfolds. It is a key moment for Spacek as Alice, mother to Bobby's best friend, Jonathan, and it elicits from Spacek an amusing expressiveness that represents some of her best, most economic acting.
The strong and caring Alice, who will crucially reappear throughout the film, foreshadows the woman who will captivate Bobby (Farrell) and Jonathan (Roberts) in their 20s. By 1982, Jonathan's parents decide it's time to retire to Arizona. Bobby joins Jonathan, who had gone away to college and has a job in what looks to be advertising, staying in a small East Village apartment he shares with the flamboyantly endearing Clare (Penn).
With a modest income from her grandfather's estate, Clare is free to embrace the classic bohemian existence. She has a bold personal style that is also reflected in the hats she creates, but beyond her dramatic appearance and mannerisms Clare is a smart, penetrating woman intent on living life fully. Part of what this entails is that Jonathan, who is openly gay, and Clare have sufficient mutual love that he considers fathering the child she wants.
Ultimately, Bobby and Jonathan persuade Clare that all three, who are connected rather than bound by love for one another, should get out of the city for the sake of the child and settle in a house in the country, in Woodstock, where Clare, somewhat older than the men, actually attended the landmark 1969 rock festival. At this point the film reaches the heart of the matter -- whether these three, with their freewheeling emotions, can make their version of the classic menage a trois work.
While Jonathan is definitely gay, there is a sexual ambiguity about Bobby, although he comes across as fundamentally a straight man without hang-ups, sexual or otherwise.
One of those practical types who seems to be able to fix anything and do everything, the one thing Bobby cannot be, by his own admission, is alone.
It is not an overstatement to say the closing chapters of "A Home at the End of the World" bring fresh meaning to the term "devastating" as the eternality of the emotions Bobby, Clare and Jonathan experience suddenly intersect with the times in which they're living.
It is rare in a movie that four people -- including Alice -- are so completely captivating, thanks to their honesty, strength and vulnerability. Mayer and Cunningham, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Hours," inspire their actors to take one risk after another and challenge the full measure of their intellect and perception in a way that seems to reach beyond their formidable talent. Charged by a passion for life, "A Home at the End of the World" is a major achievement.
'A Home at the End of the World'
MPAA rating: R for strong drug content, sexuality, nudity, language and a disturbing accident
Times guidelines: Exceptionally complex adult themes and situations
Colin Farrell...Bobby Morrow
Robin Wright Penn...Clare
Dallas Roberts...Jonathan Glover
Sissy Spacek...Alice Glover
Ryan Donowho...Carlton Morrow
A Warner Independent Pictures presentation of a Killer Films/John Wells/Plymouth Projects/Hart Sharp Entertainment production. Director Michael Mayer. Writer Michael Cunningham. Producers Tom Hulce, Christine Vachon, Katie Roumel, Pamela Koffler, John Wells, John N. Hart Jr., Jeffrey Sharp. Executive producers John Sloss, Michael Hogan. Cinematographer Enrique Chediak. Editor Lee Percy. Music Duncan Sheik. Costumes Beth Pasternak. Production designer Michael Shaw. Art director Edward S. Bonutto. Set decorator Mark Steel. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.
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