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Non-Review Review: A Long Way From Home

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2014.

A Long Way From Home is a fairly simple story about a mid-life crisis by a British and Irish couple who have retired to France. Elevated by a bunch of wonderful central performances from Brenda Fricker, James Fox and Natalie Dormer, along with director and writer Virginia Gilbert’s willingness to embrace the story’s simplicity, A Long Way From Home is a slow-moving character study and mood piece. Containing little in the way of surprises or twists, it’s an endearingly sweet glimpse at a marriage threatened by the fifty-year itch.

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It’s quite easy to imagine a more sensationalised version of A Long Way From Home. The film follows Joseph, a retiree (played by Fox) who is swept up in a romantic fixation on Suzanne (a younger woman played by Dormer), while his wife Brenda (played by Fricker) watches from the sidelines. Despite this potentially salacious set-up, what’s striking about A Long Way From Home is how restrained it all is. There’s no point where A Long Way From Home threatens to turn into Last Tango in Rural France, and that’s undoubtedly a good thing.

Gilbert’s script is confident enough that it doesn’t rely on any false suspense that Natalie might be ready and willing to elope with Joseph if he can just get the words out. The threat to the loving marriage between Joseph and Brenda is more existential than literal. There are suggestions that Joseph’s health might not be able to sustain this level of fantastical pursuit of an elusive romance, but the real drama of A Long Way From Home is conveyed through what is not said, rather than what is. There are lots of meaningful looks and glances exchanged, things thought but never expressed.

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A Long Way From Home avoids any bombastic emotive sequences. There are no blow-out arguments, no shocking revelations, no high-volume confrontations. Barring a short (but effective) sequence involving a neighbourhood cat, A Long Way From Home is a quiet character-driven piece of work. It relies on its performers to an absolutely incredible degree. Fox and (particularly) Fricker are up to the task, presenting a glimpse of a long-term marriage that feels grounded more in the mundane (solving crossword puzzles together) than the spectacular.

While this mature and considered (and, to be frank, honest) approach to the subject matter can’t help by recommend A Long Way From Home, there are points where it all feels a little too relaxed and sedate. There are points where – despite the stoic nature of the characters involved – the drama would flow a lot better if something were said. After all, there is a difference between drama and real life – while Gilbert’s approach feels authentic, it’s not entirely satisfying.

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The buttoned-down grounded nature of A Long Way From Home leads to several problems. Fox and Fricker (and, to a lesser extent, Dormer) are strong enough actors to create a conscious sense of character and identity. Indeed, Fricker manages to convey an impossible amount with nothing more than a silent glance. However, the focus on these three characters means that Suzanne’s boyfriend feels woefully under-developed.

He’s presented as a jerk in early sequences to allow Joseph to rationalise his meddling and intervention. He whines quite openly and awkwardly about his girlfriend (in her presence) to complete strangers. He takes business phone calls during dinner. He has no interest in the things that interest her, but expects her to be interested in the things that interest him. In short, he’s very much a stock character from a romantic comedy – he’s the jerkish romantic rival for our protagonist to overcome.

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This makes a certain amount of sense – in Joseph’s own carefully crafted personal narrative, Suzanne’s boyfriend is the jerkish romantic rival. The problem is that the film really needs to get past that. It needs to convince the audience that this guy is really multi-faceted and interesting in his own right, and that Joseph is really only deluding himself. The movie makes some efforts in the final few scenes, but it all feels a little too forced.

Still, these aren’t serious problems. This is Gilbert’s feature-length debut, adapted from her own short story. It features a wonderful cast acting their way through a mature and considered portrait of a marriage at a troubled time. There’s a sense that A Long Way From Home might be a little too restrained or a little too buttoned-down for its own good, but it’s still a rather considered and thoughtful piece of work.

All audience members are asked to rank films in the festival from 1 (worst) to 4 (best). In the interest of full and frank disclosure, here is my score: 3

2 Responses

  1. Lovely of you. Thank you.

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