Around the Fire
1998, R, 107 min. Directed by John Jacobsen. Starring Stephen Tobolowsky, Lisa Burgett, Charlayne Woodard, Colman Domingo, Eric Mabius, Tara Reid, Bill Smitrovich, Devon Sawa.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 24, 2000
Simon (Sawa) has landed in strict rehab and he's barely out of high school. That's how Around the Fire opens, and it takes the rest of the movie for Simon to reflect back on his life and come to terms with the problems that have brought him to this point. A mother who died when he was very young, a father who remarried quickly and whom Simon always suspected of being unfaithful to his mother, a bunch of unambitious hippie friends, and a chip on his shoulder the size of a headstone -- all those contribute to Simon's lock-up. The film's engaging young actors try hard but have difficulty overcoming the cliché-ridden predictability of the script by Tommy Rosen and John Comerford. To its credit, Around the Fire resists turning Simon into a teenage martyr, a victim of his family and society. Oftentimes, he is wrong-headed and stubborn; it's a quality that helps rescue the movie's realism. Most authentic is the movie's portrait of the movable hippie feast that travels around with a Grateful Dead-like band. As Simon gets caught up in the group's swirl, it becomes ever more difficult to date the movie: Until someone mentions the year 1996, I thought the movie had been taking place in the Sixties (including the assumption that the man in the wheelchair whom we later learn is dying of AIDS was actually a war-damaged Vietnam veteran). Around the Fire has its heart in the right place but lacks the skills to make it beat in a new groove.