Director Isaak James has created another gem in “By Way of Home,” a slice of life story set in a world where the over qualified are unemployed and forced to forgo their freedom and move back home. The story is all too real in recent modern times where the 99 percent protest on street corners while the American dream slips through their fingers.
While the outside world is a battlefield, the focus is on one family’s issues. Brooke (Eva James), once a first grade teacher, has lost her job and hopes to join the workforce at some point soon. In the meantime, she works at her family’s restaurant and lives in a cozy home with her brother (Issak James) and parents. Although it certainly has its familiarity and comforts, the environment becomes more and more narrowed, as she feels ever more trapped here.
The closed-in feel is exemplified with symbolism like the cages that surround her litter of cats and the lack of privacy with a bathtub just next to the stairwell. One feels like a voyeur, a fly who happened into the household on a ledge nearby seeing the daily conversations that take place and the everyday quiet comings and goings. The camera work also adds to the intimacy. Extreme close ups of part of a face, an arm, a back, people just out of frame add to the feeling that the world is askew and in need of alignment and the claustrophobia is palpable.
Within this backdrop steps a long lost friend, Morgan (Whitney Parshall), who seems to have a secret. Out of touch many years, despite the family’s generosity in the past toward her, she arrives out of nowhere on their doorstep (with a cat in a cage of its own), but her motivation is unclear. Her excuse is her visit is temporary, a momentary visit on the way to see her estranged and neglectful mother. But it becomes apparent right away that there is something hidden behind that frail frame. Weak, gaunt and childlike, she sleeps as much as possible, but when awake plays like a kitten with her former bestie. The back and forth is ultra natural, the dialogue is realistic, making the characters extremely believable. The audience feels Brooke’s curiosity and anger. Why won’t Morgan be forthright? What is wrong with her? Is she ill? She is in a cage of her own, unable to reveal what troubles her. Although, in the end, it seems she has more freedom than this family that appears to have no solution to their predicament.
Like most slice of life stories, the answers are not always revealed … or are they? Isaak treats this piece, like most of his works, like a piece of fine art. It is best unveiled through the eyes of the viewer. Instead of forcing a classic plot line and a neatly tied-up Hollywood ending, he leaves it open-ended, hoping the viewer will think about it and discuss it long after the film is over.
The actors in this film did a great job of staying natural, including mom and dad (Yes, this time, the famous James’ gang’s parents even got into the act — Eva and Isaak have made several films together with Whitney). The location of Cape Cod was like a character itself and featured prominently in the picture.
The film had several screenings at the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival. To find out more information, visit www.lastditchpictures.com.