A Home At the End of the World (R) (96 min.) No, Colin Farrell doesn't go the full monty in Michael Mayer's film. All that prerelease publicity about his frontally nude scene being snipped smells like a studio publicist desperately grabbing attention for a movie that otherwise (and rightly) would be ignored.
A Home at the End of the World is based on a novel by Michael Cunningham, whose book The Hours became one of the most overpraised films of recent years. This one is even more grating, clocking in at 96 minutes while feeling twice that long. Its two established movie stars - Farrell and Robin Wright Penn - play hippie dressup games while a relative rookie (Dallas Roberts) steals the show, an act that should be classified as petty larceny.
The film promisingly unfolds in 1974; childhood pals Bobby Morrow (Erik Smith) and Jonathan Glover (Harris Allan) bear uncanny resemblances to their older selves when Farrell and Roberts take over. Bobby is already a charmer, to the point of persuadingJonathan's mother (Sissy Spacek) to smoke marijuana. Jonathan's admiration of his brash buddy evolves into sexual curiosity, consummated when Bobby moves into the Glovers' home after his own family dissolves.
Twelve years later, the friends (Farrell and Roberts) are reunited. Bobby is still rootless, eager to please, even if it entails seduction. Jonathan is out of the closet and promiscuous in the era when AIDS was just beginning to spread. Between them is Clare (Penn), an older woman and Jonathan's roommate. Bobby's interest in Clare could be the usual gamesmanship, or she could be the emotional anchor he needs. Clare may be Jonathan's soulmate, but is his jealousy the result of longing for her or Bobby?
Cunningham, adapting his book to screen, may have listened to critics who claimed The Hours dragged. A Home at the End of the World is shorter, but leaves a lot of loose ends and pointless sequences. The movie should either be an hour long to cover the necessities or three hours long to give topics their due. Mayer's film goes nowhere except forward in time, until the third act when Jonathan's sexual habits catch up to him, making one wonder if Cunningham can write any other ending to a story.
The real problem is tough-guy Farrell's casting as a shy boy with puppy eyes who shrinks from every problem. Each move Farrell makes is uncertain, but it's the actor, not the character, who doesn't know what to do. Bobby's flirting suits Farrell, yet brings his failure with Bobby's quieter moments into sharper focus. He doesn't belong in this movie and, with so much of it riding on his performance, neither do we.
Penn plays Clare like Jenny from Forrest Gump after too many acid trips. The costumes, seemingly intended as a parody of fashion, do all the work. Roberts fares much better, channeling the memory of Bruce Davison in Longtime Companion in his appearance and hesitant delivery. At least he has some dramatic foundation from which to work.
Mayer does well with conveying 1970s and 1980s culture, with a hint of 1960s in the prologue getting Bobby off on the wrong foot. But that's the kind of thing filmmakers regularly do these days. The best ones fill in the foreground with well-defined characters we haven't seen before or at least ones who matter for the length of the movie. Mayer and Cunningham aren't there yet. Nothing I've seen so far suggests they ever will be. Grade: D