Published on July 1st, 2016 | by Allan Brown0
EIFF 2016: Ithaca Review
Running Time: 96 minutes
Director: Meg Ryan
Writers: Erik Jendresen, William Saroyan (Novel)
Cast: Alex Neustaedter, Jack Quaid, Sam, Shepard, Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks, Molly Gordon, Hamish Linklater
Based on William Soroyan’s novel ‘The Human Comedy’ (which is a thematic retelling of Homers 8th century epic Greek poem ‘The Odyssey’), Ithaca centres on a young American teenager by the name of Homer Macauley (Alex Neustaedter). As World War II rages on in the east, Homer’s new job as a local bicycle telegraph messenger begins to open his eyes to a new world, a world of sadness and pain, and one he no longer recognises or understands. As disillusionment and heartache begin to encapsulate Homer’s life, and the lives of the many families he delivers telegrams too, his anger and grief at the world thrusts him into adulthood, in Meg Ryan’s directorial debut; Ithaca.
Propelling forward at a snail’s pace without much to say, Ithaca sets its sights on being something of a visual poem. But armed only with its simple themes to drive the film forward and little narrative to speak of, there is just not enough meat on the bones here to warrant its 98 min running time. Truth be told, despite being beautiful to look at and successfully capturing the tone of the 1940s – albeit through a highly romanticised idealistic lens, not much happens in Ithaca, and as a result, not much happens to the characters that inhabit it.
not much happens in Ithaca, and as a result, not much happens to the characters that inhabit it.
Apart from Homer’s emotional yet rather whimsical character-arc, Ithaca can’t really settle on what its message is. Is it a coming of age story, an anti-war film, or is it a story about self-sacrifice for the greater good? The truth is, Ithaca is a little bit of all those things, yet as it never fully commits to any, none come through sufficiently enough.
Despite its whimsical nature, stilted dialogue and continual bombardment of oversentimentality, there are some notable performances throughout. Willie (Sam Shepard) and Tom (Hamish Linklater) both shine as Homers new bosses at the local telegraph post. They’re presence in the film adds a much needed injection of life and humour into the proceedings. But it is newcomer; Alex Neustaedter that really makes his mark as our central character in a wonderful breakout performance. Despite the actors being plagued with stiff dialogue exchanges from a screenplay that’s almost impenetrable, Neustaedter and the whole cast salvage what they can from it, and at times, even manage to evoke a spark of emotion, in this otherwise drab and confused drama.
Summary: Despite being a nice reflection of the time and its occasional flourishes of excellence in its cinematography and performances, Ithaca’s stilted screenplay, lack of drama and obvious inexperience behind the camera are continual obstacles in the films path that are never resolved.