The nature of the textbook indie drama "A Sort of Homecoming," which premieres on VOD platforms on March 10 2016, makes the plot revolving around high-school debate competitions apt for this review. Like any movie, there are arguments for and against watching it.
The hard-earned (and well-deserved) indie cred. of "Home" relates to the diligent efforts of writer/producer Lynn Reed to bring this semi-autobiographical story to life. This 20th century high school debate champion from Lafayette, Louisiana used the 21st century techniques of Kickstarter, screenings at secondary film festivals, and sponsored showings in movie theaters to get the film made and out to the viewing public. The VOD premiere is an additional element of this.
The following YouTube video of a scene from "Homecoming" provides a good sense of the art-house quality of the film. The jerky handheld camera work evokes thoughts of the cinematography in the updated "Battlestar Galactica" series.
The tween cred. of "Homecoming" stems from Laura Marano, who is the Ally of the Disney Channel kidcom "Austin and Ally," starring as young Amy in the '80s-era flashbacks that comprise roughly 90-percent of the film. An amusing aspect of this is that Amy is the quieter and more stable member of the debate team that is comprised of her and the cuter but less organized and more excitable Nick. In other words, Marano is the Ally to the Austin of Nick portrayor Parker Mack. The tween cred. of Mack relates to his role on the MTV comedy series "faking it."
One can easily imagine the Disney Channel airing an edited version of "Homecoming" that entirely consists of the '80s-era "Glee" style focus on working up to competing in a national high-school debate competition. Even a slower tempo version of the literal "Austin" theme that asserts "There's no way I can make it without you; do it without you; be here without you" would be very apt for this version.
Reed further embraces the "Austin" elements of the film by having Amy strongly resisting the efforts of pushy and aggressive debate-camp roomie Rosa to participate in the training exercise of singing her arguments. Alas, "Homecoming" lacks a hilariously charming and uber-goofy Dez counterpart.
Returning to the adult portion of our programming, "Homecoming" opens with adult Amy facing a decision regarding her career as a producer at a CNN-style cable news network. Receiving news that her former debate coach Annie is close to death and has granted Amy a power-of-attorney that requires immediately returning to Lafayette sets the action in motion.
This compulsion to return to the place of her birth regardless of whether you can go home again understandably triggers the strong memories of Amy that the bulk of the film portrays. The condensed version of this is that excelling in debate is very important to both Amy and Nick.
The obstacles that Amy faces include the lack of motivation by Nick and lack of support by her family. Nick having an abusive redneck roughneck father who actively opposes his son participating in debate competitions obstructs his path to a '80s-era future that is so bright that he has to wear shades. A school-district funding cut virtually on the eve of an important debate competition throws additional "Glee" style drama into this mix.
Reed shows good indie and 21st century instincts in providing a sort of a Hollywood ending. The kids end up alright but not completely in the anticipated manner, and 21st century Amy works out decades-old personal issues.
The "pro" arguments for "Homecoming" begin with it not making a parody of the '80s. There is a complete absence of neon clothes, shoulder pads and even bigger hair, and an almost absence of '80s tunes. The one Reagan-era song is out of place in that it is a Go-Gos hit three years after the release of of "Beauty and the Beat" and on the cusp of the band breaking up.
"Homecoming" additionally provides a look at the world of high school debate; learning more about this activity of which most of us know very little is interesting. Having the former debate partner/current co-producer of Reed play a demanding debate coach adds cred. regarding this aspect of the film.
Setting most of "Homecoming" in Louisiana and filming it on location contributes to the oft-mentioned indie cred. This is a nice break from the urban films that dominate the American film industry. Additionally, the visually appealing cinematography does New Orleans and rural Louisiana justice.
The primary "con" of "Homeconing" is that present-day scenes add little to the movie and are the weakest portion of it. At the heart of this, the premise that adult Amy must accept the role that Annie assigns her is flawed. Declining to do so is a very valid option.
The audience additionally does not get to know the Annie in the flashbacks well enough to care about the frail and dying Annie 30 years later. We also do not understand why Amy is the chosen one among the hundreds of students and close friends and relatives in the life of Annie.
The opening scene that reveals the career success of Amy and the modern-scenes being weaker than the flashback calls out for armchair directing in the form of advocating for a film that begins with the first flashback and that eliminates all of the modern elements with the exception of making a slightly edited version of the first scene the last one. The final suggestion is working in having someone hand adult Amy the postcard that provides important exposition.
The sort of conclusion regard "Homecoming" is that is earns a "7," with the oft-mentioned flashbacks deserving an "8" and the 21st century elements getting a "5." As always, pro and con arguments exist regarding this assertion.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Homecoming" is sort of encouraged to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.