In this latest film, he plays a charming ne'er-do-well by the name of Bobby, who unwittingly manages to get damn near everyone to fall in love with him. That's hardly a stretch for the actor, except that, unlike in real life, we don't see him constantly drinking and smoking. Pot and acid, on the other hand, are in abundance, provided to young nine-year-old Bobby (Andrew Chalmers) in 1967 by his older brother, Carlton (Ryan Donawho). In the film's first instance of uncharacteristic, Friday the 13th-style karmic punishments, the fornicating, drug-abusing Carlton meets with a sudden, brutal, and laughable death, and his rebel spirit -- minus the womanizing -- later seems to infuse Bobby.
In high school, Bobby (now played by Erik Smith, whose likeness to Farrell is downright creepy) introduces the thrills of rebellion and drugs to a brace-faced nervous Nellie named Jonathan (Harris Allan). Like many young boys, they smoke pot together, listen to records (it's the '70s, so yes, records), hang out in graveyards, and, y'know, give each other handjobs under the covers.
Then comes the next karmic sexual punishment -- while they're busy with said handiwork, Bobby's dad dies. His mother had already departed off-camera, and so Bobby, who apparently has no other family, moves in with Jonathan and his parents, played by Sissy Spacek and Matt Frewer. Earlier, Bobby had introduced Jonathan's mom to the joys of weed and Laura Nyro, which paves the way for his unofficial adoption into the household.
And then it's 1982, Bobby has finally become Colin Farrell, and the parents are moving away to Arizona. They don't let Bobby come with them, so he heads instead to New York City, where Jonathan (newcomer Dallas Roberts), who has fully come out of the closet, is living the wild life with wacky roommate Clare (Robin Wright Penn), who is quite literally a mad hatter -- she's slightly nuts, and she designs headwear. Bobby's sexual orientation isn't so obvious; his philosophy of life, inherited from his brother, is "It's just love, man." If you've seen the film's trailer, you know that Bobby and Clare are gonna get it on. And that's where things get complicated. See, Clare's in love with Jonathan and wants to bear his child, but Jonathan is 100 percent gay. Bobby falls for Clare, but Jonathan's in love with Bobby too and channels his frustration into numerous anonymous encounters, none of which fulfill him emotionally because he's tied in that department to his two roomies.
There are times when one suspects that this film could potentially be the raunchiest sitcom pilot ever -- just imagine Clare having a kid, the kid becomes a teen, and hey! Wacky high jinks ensue because the girl lives with a straight dad and a gay dad! And her mom's a free spirit with colored hair. Maybe the girl becomes a Republican, even.
But ultimately, A Home at the End of the World is not about beginnings but endings. The movie's thesis, stated repeatedly by various characters, is that you can never predict where you're going to end up. Screenwriter Michael Cunningham, adapting his own novel, doesn't seem to think anyone's going to end up terribly happy, but at least there's more levity here than in the last big-screen rendition of his work, the boring and lugubrious chick-flick-from-hell known as The Hours. Making his screenwriting debut, Cunningham is surprisingly efficient and ruthless in his adaptation, going so far as to eliminate a major character, Jonathan's AIDS-stricken lover, Erich.
Surprisingly, given his propensities, Cunningham has also excised most of the book's chapters about how horrible and confining it is for a woman to be a mother. There was enough of that in The Hours anyhow, but as Home is so squarely focused on Bobby and Jonathan, going too far into the inner conflict of Sissy Spacek's character would be a time-wasting tangent. In the case of the major characters' emotional states, director Michael Mayer (also making his feature-film debut) smartly minimizes explanations and lets the actors do the work of conveying. They do that quite well.