Films made to raise awareness about an issue can be problematic. The filmmakers may be so immersed in the issue they are passionate about that they fail to maintain adequate narrative distance in a story the average viewer can connect with. Documentaries can tackle issues without needing to follow narrative structure, but a dramatic feature must first and foremost be a good film. The old Hollywood proverb still applies: if you want to send a message, use Western Union. When a film production aligns itself with a charitable organization (in this case, National Alliance on Mental Illness), one is legitimately suspicious that it’s merely long-form fundraising. I’m happy to report that Two Ways Home doesn’t fall into any of the “issue” film traps.
Kathy (Tanna Frederick) is a woman with bipolar disorder whose out of control behavior lands her in prison. After serving part of her sentence, a mental health worker helps her get released on good behavior. With her illness controlled by medication, she sets out to right her wrongs.
Coming home to her turbulent farming family in Iowa is a rough transition. They are not welcoming, blaming her for leaving her daughter behind to be raised by the family. She offers to care for her cantankerous grandfather (Tom Bower) and his run-down pig farm while trying to reconcile with her estranged 12-year-old daughter Cori (Rylie Behr). Cori is angry and bitter with her mother for being away, and initially rejects Kathy.
“…Cori is angry and bitter with her mother for being away…”
Mitzi Wright, National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) Representative says, “Two Ways Home makes a valuable contribution to the public understanding of mental health issues and to reduce stigma surrounding mental health.”
The film wears its Indie cred proudly, shot in Iowa as a love letter to the American small town with stunning cinematography and a compelling soundtrack. Frederick carries the film as Kathy with edgy power, but the performances are strong by the entire cast. Tom Bower nails it as the elderly, stubborn grandfather. The most effusive kudos must go to Rylie Behr as Kathy’s daughter Cori. She steals each scene she’s in with incredible acting chops.
With star Tanna Frederick producing, Two Ways Home was directed by Ron Vignone and filmed in Iowa. They found the right mix: one false move in any direction and the tone could have gone off the rails into hopeless Hallmark-channel schmaltz, or incomprehensible chaos. Amazingly, Frederick and Vignone masterfully created a moving film that pulls no punches while compassionately exploring life with mental illness.
Two Ways Home screened at the 2019 Dances With Films Festival.
"…happy to report that this film doesn’t fall into any of the 'issue' film traps."