It is pretty satisfying, and perhaps even fitting, that one of the better movies I have seen at the Twin Cities Film Fest so far should be a quintessentially Minnesotan production. Finding Home, shot on-location by Chars Bonin and produced with an almost exclusively Minnesotan crew over a mere ten days, may not be the Festival’s most polished movie. But it is without doubt a superbly shot film that successfully wields the beauty of the Minnesota outdoors as an effective backdrop for what eventually becomes an intense and fairly gripping relationship drama. Bonin’s film is precisely the kind of gem you hope to unearth when attending film festivals like TCFF.
As its miniscule production might hint – its production crew tallies in at thirteen – Finding Home centers almost exclusively around a loving couple who decide to spend a quiet, peaceful weekend up north. Wesley (Brian John Evans) takes his longtime girlfriend Katie (Lindsay Marcy) to revisit the preferred camping ground of his youth. While Wesley’s goal for the trip is ostensibly to enjoy some quiet time with the woman he loves, he also means to ask for her hand in marriage. Katie, while she surely loves Wesley right back, has ulterior motives of her own for the trip. Maddeningly, neither Wesley nor the audience knows what is on her mind for the film’s first half, and she does not do a particularly good job of hiding whatever it is that is on her mind.
For most of the trip, Wesley is forced to walk on eggshells. When he casually brings up a future with Katie – moving in together, getting married and having children – she inexplicably freaks out. Katie is clearly not telling Wesley something, and that something is tearing her up inside. Of course, once the tension between the two lovers reaches its apex, Katie is finally forced to reveal her secret to Wesley. While I am reluctant to spoil what exactly she confesses to – I would ideally like this movie to be seen more widely and for the reveal to evoke shock on its own terms – take my word for it when I say the twist is a doozy – one powerful enough to alter Wesley’s perception of his relationship, and one difficult and provocative enough to have the viewer reflect deeply on the role of trust in a healthy relationship.
Considering the magnitude of Katie’s confession – or rather, the magnitude to which her transgression is treated both by the couple and by society in general – it would be easy for viewers to take sides in the ensuing debate that could either strengthen or destroy her relationship with Wesley. Should you ever manage to see Finding Home, try to match the director in his resistance to pass judgment on either character. Bonin’s script is fairly complex in the emotions it conveys. He dwells not merely on what Katie and Wesley perceive as her gross betrayal of his trust, but also on the circumstances that would lead her to the decisions she makes and – no matter how justified Wesley is made to be in his indignation – in what ways his response exacerbates their breakdown in communication. The actors Bonin employs, despite the occasional instance of wonky dialog or stilted delivery, manage to flesh out their characters as real people in a real relationship. Marcy and Evans make Katie and Wesley’s love feel real, and they bring to their tumultuous relationship a commendable degree of sincerity. That same sincerity helps protect the movie from becoming a thematically didactic and moralistic work.
An atmosphere of soothing peace and naturalism plays an ironic yet crucial role in Finding Home by underscoring and accentuating the turmoil of the movie’s key relationship. The backdrop of the Minnesota lakes and forests provides a gentility and sense of isolation that serves to heighten the stakes of the film’s key conflict. Cinematographer Nick Hillyard beautifully invokes via his lens the kind of classical imagery of the placid Minnesota wilderness that, as a native resident of the Gopher State, I grew up loving and romanticizing. While Bonin’s script shoots for truths about imperiled relationships that seem more universal, Hillyard distinguishes the film with a truly Minnesotan essence. Seeing that essence in a cinematic context – particularly in a project not associated with the Coen Brothers – is a real delight.
Finding Home, while indeed an impressive small feature, is hardly perfect. When the row between Wesley and Katie hits its nadir, the movie takes an inexplicable, jarring twist involving an mysterious outdoorsman that can only be described as the “Minnesota Nice” answer to Deliverance. For a movie that acknowledges the perhaps insurmountable challenges faced by its two protagonists, I can only justify the twist as a means of forcing reconciliation into a movie that felt neither earned nor necessary. But just as I beg you not to judge its characters for their infractions, please resist the urge of dismissing Finding Home on account of its own missteps. It is discoveries like this that make Film Fests such a wonderful and unpredictable experience. I only hope the journey of Bonin’s film on the festival circuit will lead it to your town.
Bottom Line: Gripping, complex and perhaps even brave in its choices, Finding Home is a diamond for which scouring the rough is quite worthwhile.