Bobby Morrow is a benevolent soul, a child of the '60s whose only concern is keeping everyone happy. He's not driven, he's not ambitious, he's not really looking for anything, save a warm place to sleep and a friendly face to wake up to in the morning.
A Home at the End of the World follows Bobby for about two decades' worth of trying to achieve those steadfastly un-lofty goals. Screenwriter Michael Cunningham, adapting his novel, links Bobby up with two similar souls, one a free spirit determined not to get tied down, the other a gay man not quite sure what love means, then watches as they try to make like family. It's an uneasy fit - especially since none of the three is willing to take charge of anything - but one not without its pleasures.
Bobby starts the movie as a young kid living under the wing of his older brother, who's one of those laid-back '60s-types for whom the Summer of Love never ended. Bobby idolizes his brother, and when the older boy dies in a freak accident, things get dicey. Bobby doesn't know it yet, but he's destined to spend the rest of his life looking desperately for someone to take his brother's place.
Soon Bobby's parents are both dead. He moves in with his best friend, Jonathan, whose mother, Alice (Sissy Spacek, as the mom everyone wishes they could have had), becomes one of the first people to fall under Bobby's peculiar spell. Driven, perhaps unconsciously, to protect him at all costs, Alice neglects her own son, even compromises her own morals (in what may be the movie's best scene, certainly its funniest), all in the name of protecting this delicate flower of a boy.
The grown-up Bobby, played by Colin Farrell in an uncharacteristically sweet, even-tempered performance, eventually moves to New York to be with Jonathan (Dallas Roberts), a semi-closeted gay man (he goes through the motions of keeping his sexuality secret, but it isn't) who's living with Clare (Robin Wright Penn). Clare's a worthy successor to Alice in mothering both young men: She's sweet-tempered and accommodating - perhaps a little too much of the latter.
Home now watches as the three roommates drift in and out of each other's lives, forming a love triangle with interchangeable sides; the only constant is that the three need each other in ways they can't exactly explain.
In a way, Home very much reflects the decade in which it begins; if the '60s were a decade trying to strike a balance between what was and what could be, the threesome of Bobby, Jonathan and Clare are trying to strike a similar balance, between who they are and what society wants them to become. They try being parents, they try being business owners, they even try being a family. Nothing ever quite works, but a least they're trying - perhaps the effort is what's important.
The actors here are uniformly excellent, and the story has a definite lightweight charm. But director Michael Mayer can't, or won't, give the story any heft. There's a feeling throughout that someone is going to have to break out of this inertia they've created for themselves, but it never really happens. You end up liking the characters in A Home at the End of the World far more than you would want to emulate them.
A Home at the End of the World
Starring Colin Farrell, Robin Wright Penn, Dallas Roberts
Directed by Michael Mayer
Released by Warner Independent Pictures
Rated R (strong drug content, sexuality, nudity, language and a disturbing accident)
Time 120 minutes
Sun Score **1/2