Home of Our Own, A: Tale of Spunky Widow and Six Children, Starring Kathy Bates

A tale of a poor, spunky widow and her six children, A Home of Our Own is sort of a 1990s version of Scorsese’s 1974 Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, with elements of Robert Benton’s 1984 Places of the Heart thrown into the mix.

There is no particular reason to see this family drama on the big screen, as in scope, scale and production values it perfectly befits TV, where similar inspirational country movies have been shown.

As Frances Lacey, Kathy Bates plays a variation of the role that won both Ellen Burstyn and Sally Fields an Oscar Award in Alice Doesn’t and Places, respectively. Narrative begins in L.A., in l962, with Bates getting fired from her assembly line job due to the chaos she creates as a result of a sexually charged prank against her. It seems like the right opportunity to begin a new life, as Bates thinks L.A. is “toilet of a city.”

She thus sets for the road with her six children, ranging in age from 5 to 15, feeding them with the usual egg-salad sandwiches. One day, spotting a dilapidated house in Idaho, in the middle of nowhere, Bates stops the car, determined to buy it–even though she has no job or money. These problems are soon overcome by the ever-resourceful, tough-talking Bates, who at one point trades her wedding ring for car repair.

The only new element in this formulaic tale is the language. Bates’ children know their mother so well that when she just mentions her dead husband, they all say, as a well-rehearsed chorus, “this goddamn vagabond Irish Catholic sonofabitch.”

Scripter Patrick Duncan borrows quite many ideas from Robert Benton’s l984 farm pic, Places in the Heart, as the need for strong family ties and the efforts it takes to establish a community. If in the Benton saga, the commune consisted of Sally Fields, her kids, a blind and a black man, here the “extended” family is composed of Bates, her children, and a benevolent Japanese-American neighbor and land owner (Soon Teck-Oh).

Another similarity between the two films is the use of the father’s belt for punishment, though in the new melodrama, the belt signifies even stronger messages–Bates must learn that ultimately physical force is an immoral and ineffective method of education.

Home of Our Own is yet another mythic evocation set in l962, a turning point in modern American history, except this time story isn’s not about youth, but about the indomitable spirit of the working class. Tony Bill is a director who specializes in sentimental, old-fashioned movies “with a heart.” Though he isn’t as condescending to his bluer-collar protagonists as in his former outing, Untamed Heart, he still ends up glorifying their indefatigable soul and pride–the Laceys’s motto is “we don’t accept charity, we pay our own.”

However, Bill, who was an actor himself, is good with his cast. Kathy Bates renders a solid, if not distinguished, performance as the dauntless mother. It’s a meaty part, one that often leads to Oscar nomination and awards. But ultimately she is defeated by a stereotypical role, assayed by every major actress, from Jane Fonda in The Dollmaker to Glenn Close in Sarah, Plain and Tall.

Too bad that the handsome Edward Furlong, who was so impressive in Terminator 2 and as Jeff Bridges’ son in American Heart, is not given a substantial role worthy of his talent. Still, as the eldest son and man of the house, he gives his best to the highly anticipated situations and conflicts.

Excepting notable lensing by Jean Lepine, who had achieved good work for Robert Altman, other tech credits are O.K. A handkerchief or two may be necessary for the Christmas sequence and other excessively melodramatic scenes.