Home Movie is Chris Smiths loving look at five extraordinary homes and the charming, bizarre people who inhabit them. Smith (American Movie) interweaves their stories in a way that makes the audience think about the meaning of home and the place of the individual in society. Smith delights in the eccentricities of these unique characters in much the same way that he did in American Movie, and connects their stories into a mosaic of American ingenuity and architectural possibility. Cajun Bill Tregle instructs us on the "do's and don'ts" of alligator upkeep from his bayou houseboat. Ben Skora's electronic home in suburban Chicago, where even the most mundane household items take on a life of their own. Bob Walker and Frances Mooney's cats are given the ultimate playground in America, a creation of rat effigies and cat freeways. Japanese cult actress Linda Beech takes us into her "tree house" nestled in the Hawaiian rain forest with water cascading around her. A missile silo near Topeka, Kansas becomes a New Age refuge for a very soft-spoken couple.
In the tradition of Errol Morris's Fast, Cheap, & Out of Control, Chris Smith's documentary Home Movie offers several short portraits of real-life, far-out folks. This particular group of rule-breakers has in common the unusual dwellings they've chosen to call home. Meet the burly fellow with a Cajun accent living happily on a floating shack in Lousiana; the white-haired inventor in Illinois who's created a Jetsons-style electronic home; a Kansas couple who've turned a missile silo into a hippie haven; a California duo who give new meaning to the phrase Cat Fancy; and an aging cult film star who has retreated to a tree house in the jungles of Hawaii.
Smith's previous documentary, American Movie, succeeds because he takes his time introducing us to his subject. Over the course of that film the audience moves from laughing at the eccentricities of a lower-than-low-budget horror moviemaker to cheering him on. In Home Movie, however, the crowd of subjects--intriguing though it may be--is simply too large for us to grow terribly attached to any of them. Smith's fondness for each homeowner shines through, but we aren't given enough time to share his affection. It's as if just when we're getting to know our new neighbors they head back inside and close the door. --Brangien Davis