Odd trio tries to be a family

'A Home at the End of the World' charts the ways of love

The main characters of "A Home at the End of the World" are a diverse lot: a gay cook named Bobby who comes to realize he's not really gay, a gay journalist named Jonathan whose patterns of desire remain essentially the same from adolescence to adulthood, and a woman named Clare who seeks family and motherhood without the burdens of middle-class life.

What they want most is the kind of stable, lasting household they weren't able to savor in childhood. So they eventually set about establishing one, complete with a baby named Rebecca, born by Clare but precious to all of them.

Their project proceeds one step at a time, with much faltering and backsliding, always threatened by the possibility that their four-way domesticity will turn out to be unworkable.

All are smart, resourceful people capable of imagining lives very different from the ones they find themselves living. "I wanted a settled life and a shocking one," says Clare in Michael Cunningham's original novel. "Think of Van Gogh, cypress trees and church spires under a sky of writhing snakes."

Near the end of the novel, a character sums up a key theme when he speaks of "the gap between what we can imagine and what we in fact create."

This is also a main subject of the movie version, directed by newcomer Michael Mayer from Mr. Cunningham's own screenplay. The film is compassionate and touching, but less complex and resonant than the book.

One of its most questionable moves is to present the story as a straightforward narrative, leaving out the continual shifts of perspective found in the novel, which has alternating chapters narrated by all the central characters. It's challenging to bring such a mercurial structure to a screenplay, but David Hare managed it beautifully (with multiple time-shifts as well) when he adapted Cunningham's "The Hours," into a powerful movie two years ago.

At its best, "A Home at the End of the World" has great emotional strength. But it's not the towering achievement it might have been if Cunningham had stayed truer to his original inspiration.

Rated R; contains sex, nudity, drugs, and vulgar language.

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