Movie review: 'A Home at the End of the World'

Minority GroupsFamilyMoviesDeathColin FarrellEntertainmentDallas Roberts

2 stars (out of 4)

Timing can be everything, and so it proves, sadly, for "A Home at the End of the World," a film based on Michael Cunningham's 1990 novel.

Cunningham is author of "The Hours," the more recent novel and even more recent, Oscar-nominated film. This one is too little too late. In its time, "Home" the novel succinctly captured the ethos of a certain brand of twentysomethings grapplng with the '80s: gay life, bisexuality, Reagan-era New York bohemia and the hunger to forge an ad hoc, extended family.

It's the story of two boyhood friends, one gay (Dallas Roberts) and one sexually ambivalent (Colin Farrell), and their relationship with an older woman (Robin Penn Wright), with whom they live and eventually help raise a baby. They also encounter AIDS.

But since the novel, we've had not only "Angels in America," but scads of movies and TV films dealing with these topics. Youthful, extended families today are as familiar as "Friends," while AIDS as a dramatic topic has evolved, thanks to medical advances and the shifting face of its victims.

In the novel, Cunningham (who also wrote this script) played that literary trump card, point of view: As in William Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying," each chapter is a monologue by a major character, an ongoing feast of psychological vantage points. Despite exceptions such as "Rashomon," the cinema doesn't do this very well. Even About Face Theatre's adaptation of this novel in Chicago in the '90s succeeded better, thanks to the stage monologue.

And then there's cinematic compression. Gossip columnists lately sneered that a full-frontal nude scene involving Colin Farrell (as the bisexual Bobby) was trimmed. (Test audiences reportedly gaped at the impressive size of his privates, ruining the scene's poignance).

Alas, more important matter than Farrell's member was cut to cram Cunningham's novel into a 95-minute film. Vital nuances are lost, and what's left, despite good intentions and some redeeming qualities, is cloying sentimentality wrenched from dated material.

Director Michael Mayer (who staged "Angels" here at the Royal George) is adept at dealing with this material, even including a Mozartian musical homage to that menage a trois gem, John Schlesinger's 1971 "Sunday, Bloody Sunday." Farrell, too, deserves credit for spreading his wings and attempting an antidote to his rip-snorting persona on and off screen. He's a Cleveland youth numbed by too much '60s drug use and too much early tragedy. His brother is killed in a freak accident, and his parents die while he's a teenager.

But while Farrell surprises with hitherto unseen sweetness and grace, he also mugs the camera with dopey gapes and puppy-dog stares, ultimately dimwitted and unintentionally clownish.

Roberts (as Jonathan) and Wright (as Clare) are less odd, but their roles are stereotypes, the jaded gay and the decadent diva. Meanwhile, the novel's interesting character of Alice, Jonathan's mother, is so cut and drained of complexity that it becomes a polite, blank waste of Sissy Spacek's talent.

`A Home at the End of the World'

Directed by Michael Mayer; screenplay by Michael Cunningham, based on his novel; photographed by Enrique Chediak; edited by Lee Percy; music by Duncan Shiek; production design by Michael Shaw; produced by Tom Hulce, Christine Vachon, Katie Roumel, Pamela Koffler, John Wells, John N. Hart Jr. and Jeffrey Sharp. A Warner Independent Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:35. MPAA rating: R (strong drug content, sexuality, nudity, language and a disturbing accident).

Bobby Morrow - Colin Farrell
Jonathan Glover - Dallas Roberts
Clare - Robin Wright Penn
Alice Glover - Sissy Spacek

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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