THE HOMESTRETCH: Admirable Intentions, Sadly Lacking

The sincerity of The Homestretch is certainly never in doubt. Depicting the plight of three homeless teens in Chicago, Anne de Mare and Kirsten Kelly’s documentary interweaves the personal stories with various facts and statistics highlighting the widespread nature of the issue.

Unfortunately, despite its pure intentions, The Homestretch never really manages to succeed to be truly engaging, regardless of the clear warmth of the three featured youths.

Selecting the focus

Largely following Casey, Roque and Anthony, the film depicts the numerous struggles each has individually experienced. Each has, devastatingly, been rejected by those in their lives who should have provided care and love. Each, as a result of this rejection, have found themselves in a similar situation. Anthony, unable to support his young son, is desperate to improve himself. Casey, kicked out of the familial home due to her sexuality, struggles with mental health issues alongside school and accommodation problems. Roque, no longer welcome at home for reasons never really discussed, lives with his teacher, who, after helping him engage with Shakespeare, has aspirations for him to attend college.

THE HOMESTRETCH: Admirable Intentions, Sadly Lacking
source: Icarus Films

Each individual is entirely worthy of a narrative in their own right, and indeed, each and every one of those teenagers in Chicago deserve attention. Perhaps then, this is why the decision to feature three teens feels problematic to me. If the film had chosen to feature just one teen, we would have been presented with a rather more detailed, and in turn emotive, depiction. Conversely, if it had featured numerous teens, and had perhaps featured on one key worker who engages with multiple teens daily, the film would have been able to present an everyman story, featuring issues that are applicable to many.

The choice to feature three youths, rather than taking a more general approach, has clearly been used in an attempt to create empathy, and in turn emphasise the impact of homelessness. This can, and has, worked in numerous documentaries before, yet here it feels lacking. Featuring three means that their stories feel diluted. Each individual, not provided with enough singular attention, means that it never really feels like one gets to know them.

Narrative problems

It is perhaps, then, the narrative focus that has proven to be problematic here. Every documentary must identify a way in to the narrative, a link for the viewer in order for true connection to be possible. Certainly a ‘talking head’ scenario is not necessary, and in fact is a rather outdated approach given the success of recent documentaries made from archival footage. Yet, simply having the teens speak to camera, while seemingly an opportunity to provide the teens with the freedom to speak, in fact, restricts their voice. Certainly it is important to have the teens themselves speak themselves into existence, but there is a sense here that they are never really given the chance to do so.

THE HOMESTRETCH: Admirable Intentions, Sadly Lacking
source: Icarus Films

Casey, Roque and Anthony are all entirely worthy of empathy and are well selected to feature, yet the editing and interview style, in which they talk to the camera without onscreen questioning, limits their ability to engage. We only ever see them interacting with a relatively small circle of people, people that they already know and are subsequently comfortable with. Having an on-screen interviewer, an unknown factor, could have potentially allowed for some illuminating discussion.

Lacking connection

These teens are, perhaps due to their various difficulties, reticent at times, and their stories would have benefited from having an on-screen interviewer to help reveal their motivations. Without this on-screen intermediary, the three remain distanced from the viewer, and while we certainly connect on some degree, it feels like a missed opportunity to truly delve into the various issues that homeless teenagers face.

The Homestretch is, as an auistic endeavour, clearly successful. Yet, as a film itself, it fails to truly perform. It is an important film depicting a vital issue, so it is disappointing that as a film itself, it never really makes an impact.

Do you agree? Should a documentary ensure it is entertaining as well as selecting valid material?

The Homestretch is now available on DVD and VOD.

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