Home Room

Home Room

Home Room takes a slightly different approach to Columbine, the aftermath of a similar, fictitious shooting and the way it affected the survivors

Home Room

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There has always been some degree of violence in high school, from the switchblade knives shown in films like Blackboard Jungle to the fights in Rebel without a Cause, there have been some teenagers that feel the need to strike against some perceived tormenter.

On April 20, 1999 the stakes where raised to horrible heights with the tragic shooting at Columbine High School. While many films have examined the causes of this horrible day Home Room takes a slightly different approach, the aftermath of a similar, fictitious shooting and the way it affected the survivors. The film opens in a police interrogation room where Alicia (Busy Philipps) is being questioned by the police just after the shooting at a middle class public school. Alicia was the only person that could remotely be described as a friend to the shooter and so the police want answers. Alicia may put on the façade that she is unwilling to help the police but the truth of the matter is there was no rational cause for this tragedy. Although Alicia is a bright young woman is alienated from others, left back simply because she doesn’t care enough to pass she faces another year of high school unless she sits in a hospital room and talks to a girl that survived, Deanna (Erika Christensen). The contrasts between the girls are striking albeit predicable. Alicia is for lack of a better word a Goth, dressed in black with a permanent scowl on her face. Deanna is perky to an almost sickening degree. With her head partially shaved from a bullet grazing her skull she still feels the need to always see the glass as half full. One girl a year behind, the other a year ahead, they are both intelligent but Deanna has the privilege of a wealthy family and popularity while Alicia struggles at home and school to fit in. Detective Martin Van Zandt (Victor Garber) is under pressure to find some way to charge Alicia as an accessory before the fact, a disparate push by a district attorney pressured to blame some one, any one.

Home Room respects the survivors of real tragedies such as this by not presuming to provide answers, there are no answers to be found for the ones that survive, only some hope of possibly coping at some point. While the sub plot of the detective being pressured to blame Alicia is necessary to reflect the public need for a scapegoat, this thread is in many ways secondary in Home Room. The real focus of Home Room is on the interaction of the two girls. Typical of a film of this nature they don’t hit it off immediately but the way the begrudging friend is show to develop is organic and provides an excellent foundation for emotional performances. Both girls are desperate for a real friend. The only difference is Deanna is more open about it while Alicia attempts to hide the human need from even herself. There is a natural flow to how the friendship slowly develops. Alicia tries to shock Deanna with invasive, personal questions; Deanna gradually begins to dig under the tough girl façade of Alicia. Deanna starts to show a little of how she envies Alicia in some fashion, trying to find a common ground with music or popular culture, the only means Deanna has. As the relationship grows, in some ways that even the girls are not aware of, there is a bound formed not just from the tragedy under consideration but from the deeper problems in each girl’s life. The power that Home Room posses is from this aspect of the plot, the shooting is a symptom more than it is a problem itself.

Home Room is so focused on the dialogue between the two lead characters that it was vital to cast actresses that could carry such weight, fortunately for the audience two talented young actresses where found and employed. Busy Philipps brings a lot of emotional depth to her portrayal of Alicia. Philipps first came on the scene in the television series Freaks and Geeks, a show so such quality that it was almost immediately cancelled by the studio. In Freaks and Geeks Philipps also played an outsider looking to the good girl for friendship, perfect training for her role here. She gives Alicia qualities that the audience can identify with. It would have been easy to make us completely dislike Alicia but Philipps finds a way to humanize this otherwise cliché character. Like Philipps, Erika Christensen is a young woman to watch as her career blossoms. Her break out role was in Steven Soderbergh’s where she portrayed the drug addicted daughter of the new government drug czar. As with that role Christensen is able to commit completely to her part. In Home Room she takes the stereotypical perky good girl and layers a darker undercurrent into the presentation. The two young women have a discernable chemistry between them. In fact this is what holds Home Room together and makes it work as well as it does.

Home Room is the freshman feature film from director Paul F. Ryan. While Home Room is a bit too long, clocking in at 132 minutes it succeeds in reaching the audience on an emotional level without being too sappy or too much like a Lifetime film or prolonged after school special. Some additional editing would have served Home Room well, especially in the expository final scene. Ryan frames the scenes well giving the focus to the facial expressions and reaction of the actresses. While not perfect Ryan displays talent and is well worth watching as he hones his craft and develops his talent.

Columbia/Tri-Star did an excellent job with Home Room. The video is absolutely stunning, better than most high profile films receive. There is excellent contrast between the blacks and colors and the palette is realistic and sharp. The audio is Dolby two-channel stereo and considering Home Room is a dialogue driven film, it is more than up to the requirements. The only real extra is a seven minute short that features where the director and main cast screen the film at Columbine. Home Room is a film worth having in your collection. Sure there are flaws but the performances carry the day.

Movie Review of Home Room by Doug MacLean of hometheaterinfo.com

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