Mental illness in all its forms is devastating for the individual, their families, and the communities they inhabit. One mere incident can cause someone to lose their footing for years, and the odds are almost always stacked against them. Home: _ is a fictional study of one man’s quest to manage his illness, earn a living, and make amends with his family, while resisting the impulses that might dislodge him from his specific plan.

Jack (Gbenga Akinnagbe) has had a troubled past with several hospitalizations and arrests, stemming from a mental illness diagnosis in his late-teens. He lives in a group home in New York City and is less than three weeks away from getting the go-ahead to leave and acquire his own apartment. The rent for his desired apartment is out of his price range, but to earn more towards the rent, he begs his boss for additional runs during his job as a foot messenger.  Visiting his son requires supervision. He is hounded by his old friends who still partake in illegal activities, while resisting impulsive decisions pressures Jack away from attaining his goal of self-reliance. Thrown into the mix is a male Nurse Ratchet with the name of Dr. Parker (James McDaniel), who is concerned by Jack’s behavior, despite recognizing that Jack has come a long way.

Jack struggles with his ticks and constantly holds back a sense of impulsiveness, but he attains many friends in the group home and becomes a favorite of the social workers. These ticks and constant nervousness are an indication that actor Gbenga Akinnagbe has nailed his character’s requirements. In fact, much of Home: _ is a vehicle for a talented ensemble cast of character actors who have those familiar faces but just do not have recognizable names. For example, performers such as Tawny Cypress performs as Jack’s ex-wife, and Isiah Whitlock, Jr. is a fellow group home resident who, although has his anger management issues, expects proper grammar and inflicts his fatalistic realism unto the overly optimistic residents.

One of the most interesting secondary characters is Dundee (Danny Hoch), a friend of Jack’s who is also working tirelessly to hold back his psychosis and make ends meet. We see this character fall from grace right before our eyes, little by little, until it is just too late. He spends more time hocking bootleg DVDs than keeping up with his messenger runs. His new job at a car wash is lost to absenteeism, but he blames it on poor management. The last time we see poor Dundee, he is dragging a cart through the street without the medicine that kept him on track. This particular character exemplifies the path that Jack knows he has been on before, and how one transgression can snowball into a chain of poor decisions.

Home: _ is very much a charming independent film that is familiar in its setup; a man working diligently to reclaim his independence in the face of mental illness. However, the odds stacked against Jack are certainly unconventional, and the plot and setting create a palpable sense of realism building a sympathetic profile for Jack, his family, and the other residents. Despite the many depressive elements, Home: _ is quite uplifting, but never lapses into hokeyness or overt sentimentality.

The film is writer and director Jono Oliver’s first feature-length effort, although his resume as a writer and assistant director spans several dozen projects. The film is a marvelous effort—although some scenes seem to end prematurely, the central narrative retains its clarity throughout.  The title for Home: _ itself is appropriate with is colon and an underscore that denotes that the concept of home is much less of a physical place than a perception of safety. It reminds me very much of a bit from George Carlin. Yet, as with many films of this caliber, Home: _ will be relegated to a niche independent film market, speaking to the choirs of film festivals, VOD, and small art houses, although that is less of a comment on the than spectator trends in a vastly competitive independent landscape.

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