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Case Number 03503

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Home Room

DEJ // 2003 // 133 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Erin Boland (Retired) // November 7th, 2003

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All Rise...

The Charge

All they'll have left to tell you is the unholy truth: that kids just die. And babies die too. It just happens. So you live with it.
—Alicia Browning (Busy Philipps)

Opening Statement

I had an extremely difficult time writing about this film. After watching the movie several times, I still came away with mixed thoughts and a feeling that something was missing. Home Room seems to be one of those movies that is specially designed to promote conversation or for mediation use in counselor training; outside of this context, discussion does not seem to do justice to the film's intentions.

Facts of the Case

The aftermath of a high school shooting has left six students dead and Deanna Cartwright (Erika Christensen, Traffic) seriously wounded. Alicia Browning (Busy Philipps, Dawson's Creek) is left as the only witness and a possible suspect in the ensuing police investigation. The school's principal (James Pickens, Jr.) compels Alicia to visit Deanna with the threat of denying her upcoming graduation. Alicia visits Deanna in the hospital, leaving promptly at 5, to return the next day.

As the days go by, Detective Martin Van Zandt (Victor Garber, Titanic, Sleepless in Seattle, Alias) takes it upon himself to unravel the mystery behind Alicia and find someone to blame. All the while, the mismatched girls form a close friendship. United by the tragic experience and their separate set of ghosts, their friendship bonds undergo trial by depression and suspicion.

The Evidence

Home Room tackles the often-touchy subject of violence in high schools: specifically the aftermath of a high school shooting and comes to some very startling conclusions. The movie is set up to precipitate a discussion about social issues that pervade high schools: violence, cliques, even peer pressure. Although the discussion points at the end of the film are apropos, the story seems to heavily stress the journey the characters take so they can reach a point of discussion, not the discussion of the events and their meaning itself. Home Room could be looked at in several ways: an insightful film designed to promote discussion or a three-character drama. In either case, the film is decidedly lacking.

As a three-character drama, the film is both tender and poignant. The actors have an undeniable chemistry and play their parts extremely well. But something is missing. The audience sees development in the interactions between Alicia and Deanna, but Martin Van Zandt's presence is blatantly absent from much of the film. His personal undertaking to find meaning behind the tragedy and unravel the mystery of Alicia is a large driving force behind the story, and yet there is very little interaction between him and either of the girls. Certain points in the film seemed to build up to a confrontation between Martin and Alicia—a confrontation, which I feel, would have greatly enhanced the story. It is not clear why this scene was not written into the film, and what its absence means.

As the former, I have some mixed feelings about the intention of the film. It appears to have been designed as a tool to incite a mediated discussion, but the exact subject that it should be discussed afterwards is very unclear. Several themes are woven into the threads of the story: violence, friendship, a search for meaning, healing, but there is no definitive or overwhelming statement about any of these themes.

The movie begins at the end, or so it claims. It explores the aftermath that the media does not choose to cover. Throughout the movie, the audience knows no more then any character in the film. We are taken on a journey of discovery as the characters themselves search for meaning and truth. As a storytelling device, this technique is quite powerful for this particular plotline. It does have a downfall though: the audience cannot walk away with any concluding statement about the movie, its meaning and truths. While this does work for many films I have seen, it does not work for Home Room when the film is watched outside of a mediated environment.

The film ends with a student discussion of the whys and hows. This seems to really undermine the rest of the story. During the discussion, we are allowed to a glimpse into Alicia's past and we become privy to revelation about her character at the climax of the film, but a mediated discussion by Martin Van Zandt was not the most effective way of presenting this climax. After we find out about Alicia's past, the rest of the scene is rather unnecessary. Although effectively shot, the scene does not tell us anything we didn't already know about violence in high school and why it occurs; Van Zandt's role in the film is attenuated greatly by this scene.

The picture quality of the film was excellent. The shot compositions had an enduring presence of long shadows, even in bright sunlight. I thought this complemented the subject material well. The sound quality of the film is good. I had no problem understanding any of the dialogue during the course of the film. The few intermittent bits of soundtrack were well chosen. The film's score could have had a stronger presence in places; while I did enjoy the score during the length of the movie, after watching it twice I could tell you little about it. It blended in to the background and became one of the less remarkable points of the film.

This DVD had very little in the way of the extras. A short featurette (~10 minute) was included on the disc and contained interviews with the writer/director and the three starring actors and some interviews with residents of Columbine, Colorado. This DVD would have benefited immensely from a director/actor's commentary track: there were several points in the film where I would have found insight into the story and the characters fascinating.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Home Room is a film that all high school students should see. It is poignant and evocative and provokes discussion. And it is rated R. While I am not suggesting that any part of the movie necessarily should be changed, it does make me wonder whom the target audience should be. It does little good for adults to sit around and discuss why these things happen and how to cope with them afterward, since their removal from the classroom makes a true understanding of the tragedy difficult. While the themes of this film do transcend a high-school audience in the sense that they present friendship and understanding as a path for healing, the context of the environment make it most appropriate and most meaningful for a younger audience. A film with a message this powerful is most useful in a classroom where events like these occur and the aftermath of them is most evident. Making a film this powerful, that could not be shown to its target audience without permission slips, seems to undermine what the true purpose of the film should be.

The characters in the film, at least initially seemed to be very cliché. Alicia is the stereotypical "Goth Girl" and Deanna is the stereotypical "Miss Popular." There is character development in the film that helps endear you to the girls, but neither Alicia nor Deanna completely manages to break away from their initial stereotypes. In addition to the stereotypical main characters, the supporting cast is also extremely stereotypical: parents don't know their children, the principal steps into his student's personal lives as an upstanding Good Samaritan, and the police want to blame it all on the social misfit.

Closing Statement

Home Room just left a bad taste in my mouth. On a whole, the movie could have been much more appealing had it been rearranged at a little. At the very least, it wouldn't have felt quite as incomplete.

The Verdict

Home Room will be promptly sent to the principal's office to discuss detention.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 95
Audio: 90
Extras: 40
Acting: 90
Story: 83
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: DEJ
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
• None
Running Time: 133 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurette


• IMDb
• Official Site

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