instead of dealing with an actual school shooting or the shooters like elephant, bang bang you’re dead, and zero day, home room focuses on the aftermath of a school shooting. it’s a refreshing change of pace that the two lead characters are two high school girls who survive a school shooting. it’s not that girls are less vicious than boys at that age but it does make you wonder why most shooters are male rather than female.
though home room opens with the end of a school shooting from the point of views of a swat team member and a detective, one look at the dvd cover/movie poster tells you that it’s more about the two survivors. busy philipps plays the goth, who unfortunately has bleached blond hair most of the movie. erika christensen plays the privileged blonde girl who was shot and is now hospitalized.
by the way, isn’t it kind of weird that 80s action stars are still playing action leads nowadays but philipps and christensen, who played high schoolers in the 90s and 00s, are now playing moms and even cougars? christensen not too long ago was playing a high school student in steven soderbergh’s traffic, the perfect score, fatal-attraction-in-high-school swimfan and now plays a mom on parenthood. philipps was in tv’s freaks and geeks and tv’s dawson’s creek and less than a decade later she’s a cougar on tv’s cougar town. they don’t really look much older now than the early 00’s. philipps and christensen are in their late 20s and early 30s, while the expendables are in their fifties and sixties and still doing the same thing they were doing during their heydays.
the detective, martin van zandt, is played by victor garber, sydney bristow’s dad in tv’s alias. though the movie is mostly about the two female characters, he’s not merely a throwaway character. garber brings gravitas to the supporting role. the sadness as he walks through the crime scene in the opening is done without a single word. it’s all on the actor’s face. it’s also a nice touch that he has a son who will soon be going to high school. he also gets a nice backstory anecdote about how he had a fight when he was in high school and he ends up being friends with the guy he fought, which becomes impossible when kids start bringing guns to school. even though he feels helpless, as the shooters are dead, he is under pressure from his boss, the police captain played by ken jenkins from tv’s scrubs, to arrest (and scapegoat) whoever is still alive, which leads van zandt to the goth looking philipps, who may have some kind of relation with the shooters.
as a character study, rather than a plot driven film, director/writer/editor/co-producer paul f ryan did a wonderful job as long as the film focuses on the two female leads. as good as garber is, his scenes feel ultimately unnecessary. there’s also the backstory to the philipps character about how she had to leave school for a year. it doesn’t add anything to the movie other than a commercial element. there’s a final usual-suspects-esque revelation sequence that is not only unnecessary but also distracts from the focus of the movie. (it’s also hard to believe that the police can’t simply get the medical record of their person of interest) this is not a movie that needs to be over two hours. they even end the movie with a sarah mclachlan song, while it’s probably not as heavy handed as it is now, it dances dangerously close to the after school special territory. on the other hand, i do love the brady bunch reference (the episode where one of the brady kids brings a gun to school, remember those innocent days?) and the interpretation of the go-go’s our lips are sealed.
nonetheless, it’s one of the better school shooting movies. it’s not quite up there with elephant but it’s better than the other ones i watched this week. philipps is great as the alterna girl while christensen could have been great but is hindered by some of the freak out scenes. the central relationship is just as formulaic as the countless mismatched buddy cop action movies that came before it but thankfully it’s not supposed to be an action movie and the performances rise above the convention. it’s predictable in that the two female leads don’t get along at first but then come to appreciate the partnership. garber brings it in an otherwise unnecessary role. like those other movies, home room doesn’t pretend to have an answer as to why these tragedies occur, and it doesn’t provide an easy solution. it sets itself apart from the typical tv movies or after school specials in that it focuses on characters rather than messages or lessons. this is, sadly, something we have to accept, rather than solve and prevent. it is kind of ironic though, that a film on this subject focusing on two female survivors is superior to the numerous films that feature the male shooters.
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