Film review by: Witney Seibold
“Home Room,” the story of the aftermath of the growing-ever-more-popular-as-a-film-subject high school shooting, is the first film effort from writer/director/editor Paul F. Ryan. It feels like it. It’s kind of self-indulgent. The dialogue is rarely natural, and, at its worst, laughable. It lacks a lot of crucial structure. It brings up a lot of important questions that it doesn’t bother to answer. It contains a lot of cute moments that don’t add up to anything. And, at a lugubrious 133 minutes… well, let’s just hope Ryan hires an editor for his next one. It’s a good try, and the two young leads are fantastic, but it didn’t work.
Alicia is the bad girl of her school. She has zero (0) friends, and is trying desperately not to be held back another year. Her smarmy and pained energy is captured perfectly by actress Busy Philipps, who snaps and pouts better than real teenagers. When the school is closed down after a shooting in which nine were killed and one injured, she is ordered by her principal to console the survivor, an obnoxiously sunny Deanna (performance mostly on-the-ball by Erika Christensen). The two girls, nothing in common, talk at length about trauma and pain and death. Alicia hides away from people, but knows how to deal with pain. Deanna, having had a bullet make its way through her head, knows little. Learning Experiences ensue. In a sub-plot, Detective Van Zandt (Victor Garber, largely befuddled) is trying to decipher the “why” of the shootings, and pin blame on Alicia, who may have known beforehand.
Yes, the acting is fine. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of Busy Philipps, and the two girls have wonderful chemistry. But the film is so chaotic. It begins episodes that it doesn’t finish. At one point, the two girls kiss, and it’s not addressed again at any point down the line. The ending, in which students stand up and shout out explanations for the violence, spirals into oversimplified sentimentality, and is paired with a number of preposterous and unnecessary plot twists. For a more realistic and frank view of a school shooting, wait for Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant.”