THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC: A Sort of Homecoming director Maria Burton picked up the prize as Best Director at L.A.'s Downtown Film Festival, one of several prizes picked up for the coming-of-age-drama set in the world of high school debate. Picked up by indie distributor MarVista Entertainment for a Spring 2016 release here in the United States, A Sort of Homecoming is a film that I really never thought I'd see yet a film that won me over quickly.
As a member of both my high school and college speech teams, I immediately fell into the rhythm of A Sort of Homecoming, a film that may very well have a unique subject matter but centers itself around universal themes likely to resonate with just about anyone. Amy (Michelle Clunie, television's Teen Wolf) is a New York-based television executive whose life is unexpectedly thrown a curveball when her former high school debate coach, Annie (Kathleen Wilhoite), summons her back to her hometown via a previously undisclosed yet binding agreement of sorts. It's clear early on in A Sort of Homecoming that Amy has conflicted feelings about her time back on the St. Delphine Debate Team, feelings that are bound to surface once she returns to town. Much of A Sort of Homecoming is set back in those 80's days of Amy's high school debate alongside her debate partner, Nick (Parker Mack, The Darkness), as they head off to a debate camp to hone their skills and struggle to balance efforts to maintain their school's five straight state championships, attracting top notch scholarships, managing their own personal lives and somehow maintaining their sanity through it all.
A Sort of Homecoming is, I suppose, a quiet little film that eloquently and respectfully takes a slice of high school life not often captured on film and makes it an involving and entertaining film. Of course, much of the credit must go to the two actresses tasked with portraying Amy, Michelle Clunie as an adult and the marvelous Laura Marano in Amy's teenage years. Marano, familiar to Disney Channel fans for her work on Austin & Ally, wonderfully embodies Amy's mixture of intelligence meets talent meets natural vulnerabilities. It's a winning performance that makes me want to turn on Austin & Ally and watch more of her work.
As Nick, Parker Mack is terrific as a young man balancing a challenging home life with the pressures of maintaining his debate performance and trying to attract a scholarship that he may or may not want. Mack's performance avoids histrionics in favor of a quiet naturalism that works perfectly. Both Wilhoite and Clunie also shine, while Katherine McNamara is also solid as Rose, a talented competitor with just the right combo of conceit and compassion.
The film is directed by Maria Burton (Manna from Heaven) with a warm breeziness that makes the unique subject matter important and the characters compelling. Lynn Reed's script avoids Lifetime Channel cliches and any other movie-of-the-week styled milque toast in favor of a refreshing level of authenticity.
After what has been a successful festival run for the film, A Sort of Homecoming is, as noted, looking at a Spring 2016 release.
Written by Richard Propes The Independent Critic