I was lucky enough to obtain a press pass to the film courtesy of Hungry Eyes Film & Television and G 98.7FM. Home Again opens at select theatres across the GTA, Vancouver, and Montreal this Friday, but I was excited to screen the movie in advance.
Home Alone stars Tatyana Ali, Lyriq Bent, Stephan James, Fefe Dobson, and CCH Pounder as various characters who have their lives changed in Jamaica. Marva (Ali), Dunston (Bent), and Everton (James) are 3 deportees from Toronto, NYC, and London England who all find themselves forced back to a country they all left before the age of 5.
Poor decisions (well-intentioned or otherwise) landed the three back in Jamaica, but Murphy's Law was what welcomed them with open arms. Home Again unfolds itself in their stories which often intersect in interesting ways, and shows us the lengths that people will go to in order to survive - no matter how many times life tries to knock them down.
The husband-wife team of Sutherland and Jennifer Holness wrote a story that was complex without being too messy, and eye-opening without being too invasive. Each character offered such a multi-dimensional view of family, loyalty, relationships, and the deportation process in general that any one could have had an entire film crafted solely around them. Deportation within the diaspora has become such a common theme that it's hard to step back and really look at the layout of the process until you're forced to - and that's what this movie did for me. I recall some of my father's friends being deported when I was young, but I absorbed it as something that just happened. You shrug your shoulder, buy a few international phone cards, and move on with life. Home Again exposed the audience to the failures of the system on all sides - the "foreign" country's unfair deportation practices (usually for low-level crimes), family negligence of proper filing of paperwork, and Jamaica's lack of support for those who return, unfamiliar and lost in a place that they never knew.
At many times throughout the film, I wondered if any of our protagonists would have a happy ending. Marva left children behind in Toronto, and her Jamaican family is less than supportive. Dunston hopped from one life of crime in New York to another in Kingston. Everton was the private school-educated young man with a promising future whose naivete affected him the most out of any other character in the film. Needless to say, Home Again overflows with searing reality. In real life, not everyone can have a happy ending, and art definitely imitated life in this case. Gang life, sexual abuse, and drug abuse play as vital roles as any of the characters, but Home Again also has its lighter moments. Themes of love and redemption are strong, and there are crucial comedic moments that add a necessary break from the struggles the main characters face.
I loved the small details in the film as well. Caribbean film usually includes subtitles to assist viewers who can't catch the fast-moving patois. I often find the subtitles to be jarring - slapped on-screen and sometimes removed too quickly to follow what the character is saying. Sutherland incorporated subtitles that seemed to float across the screen - not taking your attention away, but not leaving you lost in the process. I also loved the nuance used with regards to sex and sexuality in the film. I'm no prude, but I've grown weary of the gratuitous sex scenes that I've seen in other Caribbean film. I may just be sensitive to reinforcing the hypersexualized stereotypes of Caribbean men and women, but it was refreshing to see sexuality played out in a more subdued (yet equally effective) way. The cinematography was utterly gorgeous - though the film was shot in Trinidad, the arranged settings of Trenchtown, Spanish Town, and other areas of Jamaica were beautiful. My biggest concern was how the actors would pull off authentic Jamaican accents, and I was pleasantly surprised for the most part! My ear could pick out a few actors who were clearly Trinidadian playing Jamaicans, and some other cast members fell flat with a bit of their pronunciation, but overall it was great. In fact, the mixture of Torontonian, New Yorker, Jamaican, and British accents were like musical melodies, and was an audible tie to the diasporic reach of Jamaica, and the Caribbean at large.
Home Again had the theatre laughing, gasping, cursing and the screen, and dead silent. The surprises and "did that REALLY just happen?" moments kept us on the edge of our seats and engrossed in the story playing out in front of us. The heartbreaking moments, the difficult-to-watch moments, the moments that gave us respite from the harsh realities of what we were ingesting - it was all laid out in perfect puzzle piece form, with everything eventually coming together to give us one cohesive view. Though Murphy's Law was prominent for me, Home Again also left me with a strong sense of perseverance and the fact that the next choice you make might just have the power to turn things around. If you're looking for an amazing film that educates while it emotes and entertains, Home Again is what you need in your life.
For my Toronto/Vancouver/Montreal peeps, Home Again hits select theatres starting this Friday! PLEASE go out to support on opening weekend, and let the power of Canadian-Caribbean cinema be known! Check the Home Again Facebook page for more details. For my American friends, check the Home Again site to see when the film might be playing in your area. Caribbean cinema is making serious moves - Storm Saulter is seeing big success with the AFFRM-backed release of his film Better Mus Come (which I reviewed last year), so the sky is the limit for Home Again! Definitely let me know what you thought of the film after you see it!