When “A Country Called Home” begins, Ellie (Imogen Poots) is adrift in Los Angeles, saddled with a completely oblivious boyfriend (Josh Helman) and a seeming pipe dream of furniture designing. Her life of relative inaction takes a drastic turn upon hearing of her estranged father’s (J. Alan Nelson) weakened condition. Growing up is occasionally hard to do, and that transition is Ellie’s biggest challenge.
Before boarding a flight to Texas, Ellie learns of her father’s passing, and now her trek to mend fences is now a journey to say goodbye. Amanda (a very believable Mary McCormack) is the father’s girlfriend, and since she’s an alcoholic (just like Ellie’s father) and is irresponsible beyond measure, Ellie is also in charge with planning her father’s funeral.
Saying goodbye to a parent is never an easy thing, and since Ellie’s and her older brother (Shea Whigham) didn’t have any viable relation with their father, it’s easy to understand if Ellie doesn’t warm up to her latest responsibility.
Mackenzie Davis, who worked with Poots in “That Awkward Moment,” is Reno, a wannabe country singer whose moxie and easygoing demeanor instantly captivates Ellie, and the two immediately become thick as thieves. Singer-musician Ryan Bingham (“Crazy Heart”) co-stars as Amanda’s hard working yet frustrated son Jack, a single dad who strikes up a potential romance with Ellie. Both Davis and Bingham share a respective chemistry with Poots, thus adding to the film’s refreshingly genuine feel.
The film marks the writing/directing debut of Anna Axster, and with what one assumes is a low budget she and cinematographer Charlie Wupperman give the story (and the town Ellie visits) an refreshingly intimate, lived-in atmosphere.
Axster could have also resorted to gimmicky plot twists and over arching sentiments just to give the storyline more of a “wow factor,” but thankfully she decides to go the more rewardingly subtle route. When Ellie’s grandmother Judy (June Squibb) discusses her unconditional support and love for our protagonist, the exchange feels absolutely palpable. By creating moments that are generated from an organic place rather than serving some form of plot mechanic, Axster crafts a richly rewarding tale of forgiveness and the power of moving on.
Imogen Poots, a scene stealing firecracker in “She’s Funny That Way” and “A Long Way Down,” dials it way down with this story and enables us to gradually understand Ellie’s painful journey towards acceptance.
Love, as the cliche goes, comes in many shapes and sizes, and oftentimes the death of a loved one leads us on an entirely different path. “A Country Called Home,” a beautiful story that refreshingly draws power from the softest of whispers, marks the debut of a promising director, and hopefully Anna Axster has more well rendered tales to offer down the road.
“A Country Called Home” opens in limited release Friday, February 26 and will be available on iTunes, VOD, and DVD beginning March 1.
To listen to my review of “A Country Called Home” on the new podcast CinemAddicts, check out the Soundcloud bar below (the review begins at the 32:20 mark ):
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