Strong performances bolster coming-of-age tale
Adapted from the esteemed novel by Michael Cunningham, A Home at the End of the World follows the lives of two young males from childhood to adolescence to uncertain adulthood in a uniquely volatile period of American life, from the late-'60s to the early-'80s. As such, it’s an ironic and mildly iconoclastic coming-of-age story, but one in which sexual liberation and drug experience have thrown the conventional notions of romance, family, gender roles and self-awareness up for grabs.
Within this somewhat sociological story arc, director Michael Mayer and an excellent cast (Colin Farrell, Robin Wright Penn, Dallas Roberts and Sissy Spacek) have delivered a poignant set of offbeat character portraits. And all four performances are strong enough to prevail over an increasingly weak script (the screenplay adaptation, ironically and sadly, is by Cunningham himself).
The central figure in all this is Bobby (Farrell), a benign, omni-sexual hippie type, who is an orphan before he finishes high school but already well schooled in sex, drugs, and spacey mysticism by his charismatic older brother, who dies while Bobby is still in elementary school. Bobby and his pal Jonathan (Roberts) slide blissfully into homosexuality while still in their teens, and after a period of separation while Jonathan is at college, are reunited in a ménage à trois that includes Clare (Penn), an artsy, trendy divorcee who is in love with them both.
Bobby is both a lost waif and a Love Generation wonder boy whose intimate attentions have both a healing and a disturbing effect on the other characters, including Jonathan’s mom (Spacek), whom he introduces to marijuana and half seduces at age 14 (Erik Smith is excellent as the younger Bobby, as is Harris Allen as the teen-aged Jonathan).
Cunningham’s script is good when it’s letting us discover the characters early on, but it loses force when he starts using the characters as mouthpieces to explain the significance of what we’re seeing. Through all that, however, Farrell does his subtlest work to date, Penn and Spacek are very fine with two fragile characterizations, and Roberts is delightfully fresh.