The Way Home (2004) – By Timothy Martinez

 David is a young orphan who has been shuttled from one foster home to another for most of his life, ever since the death of his parents twelve years earlier. He has yet to experience anything approaching warmth, let alone love in any of these homes and thus is quite the reclusive and jaded individual at such a young age. He regularly appeals to his one living relative – an aunt Victoria – to allow him to live with her, but she is far more concerned with keeping her struggling company afloat to pay any attention to him, pawning off the responsibility of replying to his letters to her assistant.

Then David comes to live with the Whitney family. David is not the first foster child to live with Robert and Rebecca Whitney. In fact, their son Matt was a foster child that they adopted and they have high hopes of someday adopting David, too. The openness and warmth with which they welcome the youth surprises him at first and after a somewhat rocky start, he settles into life with his new family. One of the ways he passes his time is studying chess under the tutelage of a Whitney family friend by the name of Emma – a woman he had a chance encounter with in the film’s opening moments. David begins participating in chess tournaments where he meets new people, both the likable and unlikable variety. His experiences here teach him about life and how to get along with other people. Things seem to finally be going good for him.

As the Whitney’s begin the adoption proceedings, they are hit with a land mine: David’s Aunt Victoria – his only living relative and legal guardian – does not wish to sign away her guardian status. In fact, she wants David to come live with her from now on. Though no one knows this at the time, her reasoning is purely selfish in nature. Realizing that David is heir to some valuable property, she schemes to get her hands on it in hopes of ultimately bailing her sinking company out of the red. An arrogant, selfish and cruel woman, she cares not one bit for David’s best interests. Will David have to give up his hopes of having a family of his own; forced to forsake the Whitneys the loving home he has there? Well, you’ll just have to watch, won’t you?

For the most part, films like this are NOT my cup of tea. Give me aliens, ghosts, monsters, spaceships…anything to lift the film out of the realm of everyday life. After all, I already live in this world, must I vacation here as well? Thusly, for a film such as this to hold my interest from beginning to end, you know the producers are doing something right. In this case, many somethings.

Displaying a solid knack for believable dialog as well as realistic situations, The Way Home turns out to be quite the effective and heartfelt family film. The film does not meander about, wasting the audience’s time with useless set pieces, but focuses on developing both it’s story and characters. This lack of big, overblown emotional moments, designed to manipulate the viewer and for which Hollywood dramas are infamous, actually works in the film’s favor. Instead of the cookie cutter product put out by clueless executives and which never smacks of reality, what we have here is an earnest attempt at telling a “real” story, one that the viewer can quite easily believe.

It’s to the filmmakers credit that the more predictable elements (David and the bully coming to terms, his grudging acceptance of his new home and family and the danger to that existence personified by aunt Victoria to name a few) are handled so well. Sure, we know how these things are going to play out, but as has been noted elsewhere, many times it is not always the destination that is important but the journey itself. Here the journey the film takes us on is an engrossing look at one boy’s life. The emotion resonance is inherent in the story itself and never needs to be pointed out. To me that is the epitome of great filming. That such a movie can keep my eyes glued to the TV for its entire running time is a testament to not only story being told, but also those responsible for putting it together.

To learn more about the film, you can visit the film’s homepage at http://www.littlebeth.com.