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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Home Room (2003)

"High school is no place for children anymore."
- Det. Martin Van Zandt (Victor Garber)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: October 13, 2003

Stars: Busy Phillips, Erika Christensen
Other Stars: Victor Garber, Holland Taylor, Ken Jenkins, James Pickens, Jr.
Director: Paul F. Ryan

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: R for strong language and some violent images
Run Time: 02h:11m:34s
Release Date: October 14, 2003
UPC: 043396018952
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C C-B+B- D

DVD Review

Since 1999, I've been waiting for someone to make a really powerful film about the rash of school shootings in the late 1990s. I graduated a few days after the Columbine massacre, and though my school was thousands of miles from Colorado, the ghosts of all those dead students hovered over us as the school year ran down. The loners were eyed suspiciously; the kids in Goth makeup were given a second look. The classrooms were filled with a listless unease, as students and teachers tried to process an event that they hadn't been a part of, but which affected them all the same. Sounds like sure-fire material for a screenplay, right?

Paul F. Ryan thought so. He based his first film, Home Room, around the aftermath of a school shooting. But it feels more like he took a script he'd already written, a ho-hum dirge about the depression teens face during the "hellish" high school years, and punched it up with the specter of violence and the connection to "ripped from the headlines" events. For all its soul-searching and probing for answers, Home Room doesn't come up with much more than "High school sucks, and being a kid is rough." Not exactly a revelation, not exactly profound, and not exactly enough to base a two-hour-plus movie around.

The story would feel right at home on the stage—most of the scenes take place in the same room, between two characters. Alicia (Busy Phillips) is the rebellious freak who had few friends and, perhaps, a closer connection than anyone to the shooter. Deanna (Erika Christensen) is a top student from a wealthy family, and she's in the hospital instead of dead like her classmates out of pure luck. The detective investigating the case (Victor Garber) thinks that Alicia might have known about the shootings in advance and continues to investigate her, while the school's principal (James Pickens, Jr.) forces her to visit Deanna in the hospital as a way of helping both girls deal with the tragedy.

Christensen and Phillips give strong performances, but they don't have a lot to work with. The dialogue is full of the kind of bland pronouncements that seem deep in high school, but incite little more than eye-rolls on film ("I'm... dying inside!" Deanna says early on, and about an hour later, I was too). With such delicate subject matter, I was hoping for a film that went beyond your typical teen moping, but Ryan's script includes every cliché in the book, from suicide attempts to the final, stilted emotional revelations.

As a director, Ryan fares better, though he stretches the incredulity of his script to the limit when he attempts to be arty—witness the corny nightmare montages or the creative cutting to show a character's distress. It's all a little obvious, especially when paired with such a straightforward screenplay. Oh, and can we place a moratorium on the Sarah McLachlan closing montage? TV wore it out around Season Two of Dawson's Creek and it doesn't play any better on film. Particularly when the song's lyrics ("It doesn't mean much, it doesn't mean anything at all.") are intended to make some brilliant final point and instead serve as ironic commentary.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: Home Room receives a very nice transfer, particularly for a low-budget film. Detail is very good, blacks are solid, and colors are stable and natural. I did spot some aliasing in places, but nothing serious. There is some increased grain in darker scenes, but overall, the source materials look nearly flawless. This isn't a pretty or flashy film, but I can't complain about the presentation. A full-frame transfer is also included on the same side of a DVD-9.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 surround track hardly qualifies as such—the surrounds are actively exactly once, only to offer an obvious bit of atmosphere (a hospital page). Otherwise, this is strictly a front soundstage mix, and an inconsistent one at that. There is very little stereo separation of directionality in this dialogue-heavy mix. Speech is always understandable, but occasionally sounds distorted, especially when characters scream.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Aside from a pair of trailers (one for the theatrical release and one for the video), Home Room includes a better than average, seven-minute behind-the-scenes featurette. Not that it goes behind the scenes—the stars talk about their roles, the director talks about what he was trying to do with the movie, pretty standard stuff. But the last few minutes cover the picture's premiere at Columbine High School to an audience of teens involved in the shooting. It's a little self-congratulatory, but still more interesting than what you usually see in these promo pieces.

No subtitles are included.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Home Room constructs a controversial school shooting hook upon which to hang a maudlin, sort of dopey made-for-TV level drama about emotional turmoil. The DVD presentation is nice enough, so give it a rent if you like the cast. Otherwise, I'm sure it will show up on Lifetime sooner or later.


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