Review: “Home, James” is Quite the Ride

In the interest of full disclosure that regular readers of The Moveable Fest may already recall, I spoke to Jonathan Rossetti and Julie Gearheard as they were embarking on the Kickstarter campaign for “Home, James” and while I’m happy to report they were successful, I’m even happier to say that the film turned out well.

I don’t say this out of a rooting interest for the duo, but because they’ve created a lovely slice of life from their native Oklahoma. Although “Home, James” tells a rather familiar story, it emerges from an unfamiliar place, a doomed romance between James, a man (Rossetti) who has made a home near Tulsa after college and Cooper, a native (Kerry Knuppe) who is about to make her escape to New York. Boosted by a high-energy soundtrack provided by distinctly midwestern indie rock acts and lingering whenever possible in the golden glow of streetlamps on dusty streets, the film casts the same intoxicating spell that you’re led to believe James must have fallen under when he catches Cooper at a wedding, pursuing a relationship with the bridesmaid even if she says moments after their first kiss that she’s moving to Greenepoint. Despite other warning signs such as Cooper’s fondness for Jack Daniels, James throws caution to the wind.

“Home, James” is less daring as a narrative, setting up the ticking clock of Cooper’s move early and letting the will they or won’t they question loom over the film like a guillotine blade, but its central relationship rings true, a credit to both the performances by Knuppe and Rossetti and the script the latter penned with Gearheard. While the way the film deals with alcoholism may be as rocky as putting up with an actual alcoholic, Rossetti and Gearheard mostly prefer understatement, establishing each of their characters with just enough to allow the audience see what dictates their actions and still breathe.

When James finds himself drawn to Cooper, who can’t even tell him her home address when they meet, he’s a sober driver for drunken revelers by night (hence the title) and a photographer by day – an observer who’s pulled in by Cooper’s overindulgence on living in the moment, and likewise, Cooper sees the benefit to slowing down. Rossetti and Gearheard also don’t overplay their own relationship onscreen, as Gearheard plays James’ confidante Sam who works at the local camera shop and the easy rapport between the two result in some of the film’s most charming moments.

There are markers of first-time filmmakers here. Occasionally, the rough edges of adhering closely to a three act structure where certain story elements feel prescribed rather than organic peek in as well as an affinity for closeups in places where it might be nice to have some space. Then again, it’s a small price to pay for the youthful exuberance that pulses through “Home, James” right up until its killer final frame, capturing the wild swirl of emotions during a relationship both parties suspect has an expiration date. Though Cooper says at one point, “This place isn’t bringing out the best in me anymore,” the contrary proves true for its writing/directing duo who not only created a strong showcase for themselves, but for their home state as well.

“Home, James” opens on April 18th at the Los Feliz 3 in Los Angeles and the reRun Theater in New York.

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