Box Office Democracy: Home
The epigraph on the second episode of the HBO series The Wire reads “You cannot lose if you do not play” which is a quote that really epitomizes the world view of the more entrenched characters on that show, they don’t believe in making waves, even to make things better, because they prefer the stability of the status quo. I worry that the people responsible for Home saw that quote and took it to heart in all the wrong ways because they have produced one of the safest, least ambitious movies I’ve ever seen. Home is less a piece of art and more a survey of focus groups and Q ratings with a heavy influence from a room full of executives free-associating with the phrase “what do kids think is funny?” written on a white board.
When I reviewed The Imitation Game I criticized Benedict Cumberbatch for a performance that I thought was one-third Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory and if only I could go back in time and tell myself to savor that performance. Jim Parsons plays the lead, an alien named Oh, and plays it in a way that if it weren’t for his screwy alien grammar you could probably convince me was recompiled dialogue directly from his show. It’s not that that character can’t work or that I never find it funny, far from it honestly, but if I wanted to hear Jim Parsons take things too literally, not understand typical human behavior, and embarrass himself in front of people he thinks are far beneath him I could do it at home on my television for free. There’s very little new he’s bringing to the table as an actor except for an accelerated story arc and way of speaking that feels like the Boovs learned English from lolcats.
Rihanna stars opposite Parsons as the infuriatingly named Gratuity “Tip” Tucci, a name I sincerely hope no one in the real world has because it’s just terrible. It helps that they cast Jennifer Lopez as her mom because it sort of seems within the realm of possibility that she would name her kid something like that. Rihanna does a passable job as a voice artist but she doesn’t do anything that ever lets you forget it’s Rihanna talking. It becomes especially unsettling when she turns on a radio at one point to teach Oh about music and it plays a Rihanna song, sung in basically the same voice the character talks in and no one brings it up or cares. Hiring honest-to-goodness voice actors would go a long way. Steve Martin is delightful in a rather small part as the leader of the aliens and I have now mentioned all but one of the credited voice actors in the movie in this paragraph.
Home simply feels like a movie with no effort exerted at any point. The script is good enough, funny but not really funny, passably suspenseful and emotional but not memorable in any way, uplifting but with no clear moral. The animation is at about the baseline for a modern animated film, it helps a lot that they remove all the humans from earth early in the film as it explains away their painfully static backgrounds. One of their big deal set pieces animation-wise is a swimming scene through the ocean at night, so it’s never quite as delightful as a Pixar film or even the other, more ambitious Dreamworks Animation projects like How to Train Your Dragon but it’s not the dreck that was the Ice Age franchise or anything. Home is a movie that a child would sit through happily and probably wouldn’t love enough to demand all of the toys afterward. There’s a place for movies like this but it’s the same kind of place as October horror movies and low-tier summer action movies. It’s a movie that wants to find an audience not by being special but just by showing up.