From Morgan J. Freeman, the executive producer of television shows “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” and a one-time director for “Dawson’s Creek,” comes “Homecoming,” a teen horror-thriller. The film features Mischa Barton as Shelby, a lunatic ex-girlfriend obsessed with her somewhat unimpressive high school boyfriend/football star. Madness ensues when the football star, Mike Donaldson (Matt Long), returns home to his hometown on Homecoming Weekend for the home school’s homecoming game hoping to introduce a new girlfriend, Elizabeth (Jessica Stroup), to his parents, but without a clear plan for how to deal with Shelby. His analysis of the situation: “It’s ancient history.” Yeah, sure Mike.
As one might predict, Barton is clinically insane. So after hitting Elizabeth with her car, Shelby decides to hold her hostage (because she’s crazy). However, there seems to be a problem with this logic. Who’s to say that Mike won’t just go back to Northwestern and spark up a romance with another severely undernourished (and severely average-looking) college girl? Crazy Shelby, you should have kidnapped Mike. This indiscretion is made all the more confusing by the movie’s tagline, which should rationally lead to a decision to kidnap Mike: “If [Shelby] can’t have him, no one will.” But we digress. This movie is terrible–from the gold Audi that Mike drives to the unidentifiable accent that Shelby (Barton) speaks in. Its only saving grace is a horribly emasculated cover of David Bowie’s “Modern Love,” which is played by the avant-garde house band at The Pitt Bar. But we haven’t even gotten to the good (worst) stuff yet.
Confronting Shelby near the movie’s clumsy climax, Mike, in his only flash of enlightened awareness, offers his own Kierkegaardian diagnosis of Shelby’s condition: “Shelby. You’re sick. You need help.” And as wooden as his brief, stoic appeal is, he’s right. Shelby is sick; this seems to be the only real character trait the movie effectively gets across. Kierkegaard, if he were alive (he is in our hearts), would probably say that she is suffering from a sickness of the self, or more precisely, despair–not wanting to be oneself–or even more precisely, despair in weakness–consciously in despair not wanting to be oneself–or even more precisely than that, despair over the earthly or over something earthly, or to be more precise, despair over Mike and Elizabeth, or to be more precise, despair over Mike having moved on to Elizabeth. The fact that she cannot rid herself of her self, that is, her self as exists currently, without Mike’s love (though why she values his love so highly constitutes a very good question), prompts her to resort to murder, kidnapping and severing Elizabeth’s Achilles tendon with garden clippers. What she needs is faith, or to be more precise, to become a knight of faith.
“Homecoming” is strangely reminiscent of Rob Reiner’s film adaptation of Stephen King’s “Misery,” and though Barton may not quite match the level of brilliance of Kathy Bates’ bat-shit crazy performance, it makes up for this with the fact that it is Mischa Barton we are looking at and not Kathy Bates. It also offers us a glimpse into the mind of a despairing self. Or it would, that is, if the movie gave us a glimpse into any of its characters. In the end, Shelby (Barton) is much like a needy puppy that constantly wants to be petted, which you think is really cute, but you’re too busy calling animal control to care.
In line with the classic “bad movie” paradigm, much of the dialogue plays out like a series of awkward interactions between real people pretending to be people who aren’t in awkward interactions, but who aren’t pulling it off–or to be more precise, actors in awkward interactions as professionals–or to be more precise, actors struggling with a cardboard script. To demonstrate the depth of this movie’s lack of self-awareness (ironically, this is one thing that Kierkegaard says can keep you out of despair, through pure ignorance), here is a conversation between Elizabeth and a man at the motel she is trying to rent a room at:
“Don’t got no rooms tonight. Big game tonight.”
“No but your sign says–”
“Sign’s broken. We only sell out once a year anyway.”
In this scene, probably the best of the movie, “Homecoming” offers up its only piece of self-knowledge: its title. Bingo indeed.