Rating: B-/ Sometimes you just need a place of your own. But functioning independently is not always the easiest thing to do, especially if you’re someone like Jack. Jack Hall (Gbenga Akinnagbe, in a nice, understated performance) is a mentally ill adult man living in a halfway house in Brooklyn, where life can be hectic, to say the least. He longs to reconnect his adolescent son John (Judah Bellamy) but his ex, Laura (Tawny Cypress,) is afraid Jack is going to lose his mind again and drag his son down with him.
Mostly, though, Jack wants out, out of the craziness of the halfway house patrolled by aides that act like they’ve never worked with a mentally ill person in their life. Jack is desperate to buy his own apartment, despite his doctors’ doubts, but paying for a pad is easier said than done. He’s doing better psychologically, but can he keep from slipping through the cracks once again? Is he capable of a normal life in a harsh, sometimes uncaring world? Jack keeps an optimistic view, but recovery is hard, especially when everyone you know is totally convinced you’ll fail at making a new start.
Well acted all around, Home occasionally has moments that seem too precious or rehearsed (always a risk when writing a movie that deals with the mentally disabled or disturbed) but it’s surprisingly watchable, considering it’s low budget. The only character who totally got on my nerves was Laura- do we really need more movies about unsuccessful men trying to prove their worth to whiny, hostile harpy ex-wives? On one hand, I understand Laura’s motivations- she wants to keep her mentally unbalanced ex-husband from putting their son in danger or letting him down in some way. But on the other, her character is just such a cliche. I wanted to smack her to next Tuesday, she always had that sulky, butt-hurt scowl on her face.
For the most part, the dialogue is pretty believable, with the exception of a big speech by Jack at the end that seems too Hollywood by half. Home does a good job tackling stigmatization of mental illness; despite their bizarre, sometimes unpredictable behaviors, the people at Jack’s halfway house are sympathetic and fully human. The aides at the halfway house seem a little too violent and tactless sometimes (The Princess Bride‘s Brute Squad, anybody?)- I’m almost positive that if these guys were to menace a mental case with a baseball bat in real life the patients family would be all over a fucking lawsuit- but people aren’t always employed into the mental health field for the sensitivity, that’s for sure.
Overall, this movie is effective at what it sets out to do; depict mental illness in a more sympathetic light. People assume mental illness victims are dangerous thugs who go around whacking people with an axe, and the media sometimes does little to dispel these myths. Of course, for every hundred harmless mentally ill people there’s a James Holmes waiting to make national news, but most people with mental health issues are primarily a danger to themselves. It’s easy to root for this movie’s protagonist and wish his friends the best, although the film’s rough edges make it one that’s better to watch once, rather than again and again. Jack’s optimism in the face of grueling hardship make him an easy character to get behind. Some people settle for less. Not Jack. His journey to self-reliance even in the face of doubt and turmoil make for a touching viewing experience.