Austin Film Festival Film Review: Homestate
Endearing local feature pops with authenticity and nuance
By Sean L. Malin,
1:45PM, Mon. Oct. 17, 2016
Such an entrancing surfeit of warmth and homegrown values is contained within the Austin-set Homestate. Thanks to a synchronized quartet of stellar local actors, this brief, lovely drama from writers Blaise Miller and David Hickey (who also directed) defies expectations of quality for films of such minute scope.
This is as far from pretentious as independent movies get, and the filmmakers are wise not to try and reinvent the wheel with a high-concept story or bold aesthetics. It’s all quite typical, actually: A young man, Josh (played by Miller), shows up at his artist-sister’s house unannounced, disrupting her suburban Texas life with eccentric daughter Pearl (Grace Love) and a plateaued marriage to home contractor Harvey (Hickey). But when Josh, who struggles with drugs and real-world responsibilities, begins to clean up his act and become a caregiver for Pearl, he finds himself Oedipally bullied by her untrusting father.
Familiar themes, to be sure – so how is it that the characters are so memorably portrayed and the payoff so legitimate? Most important to this film are Love, Miller, the sympathetically nasty Hickey, and Shaneye Ferrell as the painter Crystal, all of whom are uniformly superb. Love plays an unfortunately stereotypical character: a quirk-ridden, precociously smart child who makes meaningful drawings of her uncle and represents his ultimate salvation. Yet in her scenes with Miller, who perfectly fits the bill of a sloppy Texan millennial (the decisively dominant character trope at this year’s Austin Film Festival), Love anchors Homestate’s redemption narrative so honestly that we wish Josh the utmost success.
Then there is the unassuming script, which is flush with unexpected intimacies and nuances. As Harvey, Hickey plays a jealous and secretive man whose new mailbox-building business is causing him stress. But I challenge you to name another recent film in which a mean character unironically attends a men’s church group – with no representations of alcoholism or spousal abuse in sight. That same, rare attention to detail distinguishes Hickey’s and Miller’s writing from the more formulaic structural beats that typify many independent films. It’s the microbudget equivalent of those strangely special family get-together dramas like Dan in Real Life or Home for the Holidays. Homestate is a lovable movie waiting to be discovered by those not yet cynical enough to judge festival screenings by title alone. To be frank, this particular title is the film’s worst cliche.
Homestate screens again Wednesday, Oct. 19, 6:30pm, Galaxy Highland.
The Austin Film Festival runs Thu., Oct. 13, through Thu., Oct. 20. See www.austinfilmfestival.com for schedule and info. Follow our continuing coverage of the fest at www.austinchronicle/austin-film-festival.