"A Home of Our Own" (selected theaters) would be unimaginable without Kathy Bates, for she brings a tart presence and an unassailable authority to what would be otherwise an overly predictable and sentimental saga about a single mother packing her six kids into a beat-up Plymouth and winding up in a tiny Idaho town. Always a pleasure to watch, Bates is so absolutely real and natural, and is so totally captivating an actress, that the film becomes a touching, involving experience.
It's Los Angeles 1962, and Bates' Frances Lacey has just been fired from her potato chip assembly line job for fighting back when her boss grabs her buttocks. Deciding that she and her kids have about as much a chance of making it in L.A. as an "ice cube in a frying pan," she gathers up her "Lacey tribe" and heads Northeast, destination unknown. Just as her car is about to give out once and for all, she spots an unfinished shack on the outskirts of an Idaho town and swiftly works out a deal to obtain it from its owner, a kindly nursery owner (Soon-Teck Oh).
Frances may well remind you of someone in your own family, the kind of unstoppable woman you're lucky to have as a grandmother--by then she will have mellowed--rather than as a mother. She is a proud, determined realist; a look-you-straight-in-the-eye, tell-it-like-it-is, lay-down-the-law survivor with ironclad principles; a firm disciplinarian with high disdain for anything that smacks of charity.
She's also a profoundly loving, caring parent, but sometimes her pride and strictness, her overwhelming sense of responsibility, short-circuit her affections. She's caught up in such an intense, all-absorbing struggle for survival that it's hard for her to unbend, although at times she's capable of laughing at herself, having fun with her kids and, when pressed, of owning up to her mistakes. (When Bates, never slimmer, laughs and smiles, she becomes beautiful.)
But being besieged by poverty and bone-tiredness, she has such a struggle to get a roof over her head and food on the table that it's difficult for her to see what she and her children may need beyond such basics.
Frances is of course admirable, especially in the philosophy of honesty and self-reliance she tries to instill in her kids, but she can be hard to live with. That's especially so for her eldest, 15-year-old Shayne (Edward Furlong), who finds it increasingly difficult to buy into her dream of eventually prevailing over adversity, to submit to her authority and to do without so much of what the other kids at school take for granted.
Drawing from his own experiences as one of 12 children whose single mother took off from L.A. in 1961 to build a new life for her family in the rural Midwest, writer/executive producer Patrick Duncan brings a special edge to Frances and Shayne's spiky relationship.
"A Home of Our Own" has been directed lovingly and unpretentiously by Tony Bill, who elicits marvelous performances not only from Bates and Furlong but also many others, particularly Clarissa Lassig as Bates' sweet-natured eldest daughter and Tony Campisi (Bates' husband in real life) as Frances' would-be suitor, a seeming nice guy who turns brutal when Frances resists his crude sexual overtures.
As pleasing as "A Home of Our Own" (rated R for some mild language and violence in a family drama) is, in so many ways we're nevertheless left with the feeling that there's a grittier story here--that Duncan's own story, if only as one of 12 rather than six children, was lots tougher and maybe not quite so heartwarming as the one he's chosen to tell. Such grittiness would also have helped distinguish this film more sharply from much similar fare on television.
'A Home of Our Own'
Kathy Bates: Frances Lacey
Edward Furlong: Shayne Lacey
Soon-Teck Oh: Mr. Munimura
Tony Campisi: Norman
A Gramercy Pictures presentation. Director Tony Bill. Producer Dale Pollock. Writer-executive producer Patrick Duncan. Cinematographer Jean Lepine. Editor Axel Hubert. Costumes Lynn Bernay. Music Michael Convertino. Production design James Schoppe. Set decorator Steven A. Lee. Sound Steven Laneri. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes.
MPAA-rated PG (for some mild language and violence in a family drama).