'Two Ways Home': Film Review

Two Ways Home
Courtesy of Film
Heartfelt heartland drama.
12/29/2020

Tanna Frederick stars in Ron Vignone's drama as a woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder who returns to her rural Iowa hometown after serving prison time.

A movie can have the best intentions in the world and still not quite hit the mark. Such is the case with Ron Vignone's heartland-set drama about a woman attempting to pick up the pieces of her life after serious missteps relating to her previously undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Although Two Ways Home features some powerful performances and affecting moments, it never feels wholly organic. You too often feel the film straining for the sort of significance that earned it an endorsement by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Tanna Frederick plays the central role of Kathy, first seen robbing a convenience store with a burly, menacing accomplice (Pat Frey). Kathy behaves oddly during the ill-fated stickup, her behavior presumably caused by the voices she hears in her head.

While serving her prison sentence, Kathy is informed that she has a chemical imbalance and is given an early release (would that prisoners of color received such compassionate treatment, but that's another story). She returns to her rural Iowa hometown, only to discover that her farmer grandfather Walter (Tom Bower, excellent as usual) has suffered a serious heart attack, her ex-husband Junior (Joel West) has taken up with her former high school rival, and her 12-year-old daughter, Cori (Rylie Behr), is openly hostile. "So how long are you staying?" Cori brusquely asks her mother shortly after she arrives.

Even as Kathy manages to land a job at a coffee shop thanks to its empathetic owner, she's forced to deal with numerous family crises. Her parents seek to declare Walter unfit so they can take over his affairs. Her daughter wants nothing to do with her. And it turns out that Walter suffers from PTSD.

That last plot element, seeming to come out of nowhere, proves indicative of the mechanistic aspects of Richard Schinnow's screenplay, which too often seems more focused on shedding a spotlight on social issues than dramatic credibility. The frequently ham-fisted dialogue is another problem. Such comments by Cori as "Caffeine blows out my adrenals" and "I'm booked until 9 every day this week" feel more redolent of a screenwriter's attempts at cleverness than an emotionally scarred adolescent. Nor does it feel real that ex-husband Junior would show his adolescent daughter old episodes of HBO's Oz to illustrate her mother's life in prison, or that he would ask Kathy in all seriousness, "Did you ever shank anyone?"

By the time Cori nearly dies during a "fainting game" played with her friends, followed by the death of another character that must be the most low-key ever committed to celluloid, the film has lost much of its credibility.

It's a shame, because Two Ways Home, filmed entirely in Iowa, boasts impressive authenticity in its portrait of life in rural America, likely because both Frederick (who also produced) and screenwriter Schinnow hail from such an environment. It also helps that veteran character actor Bower (Die Hard 2, Out of the Furnace) looks like he stepped out of a Grant Wood painting, and that Frederick, who's generally played more glamorous roles (she's appeared in six films directed by her ex-husband Henry Jaglom), delivers a fully credible, sympathetic turn as the troubled protagonist. Those terrific performances and the movie's palpable sense of place infuse Two Ways Home with a dramatic power that compensates for its contrivances.

Available on VOD
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Production company: Feral Dog Productions
Cast: Tanna Frederick, Tom Bower, Rylie Behr, Joel West, Kim Grimaldi, Richard Maynard
Director: Ron Vignone
Screenwriter: Richard Schinnow
Producers: Tanna Frederick, Kimberly Busbee
Director of photography: Christopher Pearson
Production designer: Sonya Naumann
Editors: Ron Vignone, Kate Noonan, Jorge Alarcon-Swaby
Composer: Kevin Brough
Costume designer: Julie Daniels
Casting: Kimberly Busbee

92 minutes