By Doug Brunell | November 15, 2003

“Home Room” is an emotional picture that benefits from the extremely powerful performances of its stars. And while it deals with the aftermath of a school shooting, it doesn’t come across as a message movie, and it definitely doesn’t have an ending that lets viewers off easy (though it comes close). In fact, the movie refuses to even give an answer to the problem of school violence, instead choosing to focus on the lives of the people affected by it.
Victor Garber (from television’s “Alias”), plays Detective Van Zandt, the man who heads the investigation into the shooting. The focus of his attention is Alicia (Busy Philipps, who was also on the incredibly underrated “Freaks and Geeks”). Alicia is a hard girl to like. She doesn’t fit into any clique, and her sarcasm makes it hard for people not to physically attack her every time she opens her mouth. She is beyond the typical “difficult” youth, and when her principal orders her to spend time with one of the survivors of the shooting, Deanna (Erika Christensen in a performance even better than the one she gave in “Traffic”), it’s a good bet things won’t go well.
Watching these characters (and the actors who bring them to life) is a chore, but only because their emotions are so raw. When Deanna tells her new companion that she’s “dying on the inside,” you get a rare glimpse of what far too many kids are going through every day. The film, however, really does an excellent job of showing that these are young adults who can’t possibly cope with a tragedy adults can’t even comprehend. You have to admire director/writer Paul F. Ryan for not making his characters as two-dimensional as we’ve come to expect in such films.
At its core, this is a movie that deals with just about every topic (suicide, love, the will to conform, rebellion, peer pressure, the distance between parents and their kids, and so on) other than the most obvious one. The more astute viewer will understand how it all fits together, though. Just don’t look for the film to give you an answer as to why this sort of thing happens. That’s up for you to decide on your own. And if you listen, you just might get it.

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