Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Meg Ryan will attend Edinburgh with her directorial debut Ithaca
"Ryan is never less than sincere but fails to penetrate the heart of the matter."

Meg Ryan makes her directorial debut with this earnest Second World War drama that despite an elegant score from John Mellencamp and some fine acting, suffers from stilted dialogue, a predictable plot and gooey sentimental topping. Based on The Human Comedy by William Saroyan, itself inspired by Homer's Odyssey, it explores how war affects the rural town of Ithaca and, in particular, the Macauley family who live there.

Ideas of war, loss and a desire for homecoming are universal and with its strong young protagonist Homer (Alex Neustaedter) - suddenly the man of the house since the death of his father and the departure of his brother Marcus (Jack Quaid) to the frontline - you can't help but wonder what an experienced director like Steven Spielberg would have done with this emotionally rich material. As it it is, Ryan is never less than sincere but fails to penetrate the heart of the matter.

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She also, unwisely, casts herself as Homer's mother. While Ryan is a fine actress and I respect her right to have whatever cosmetic surgery she likes, her face is simply a bad fit as a grief-worn Forties housewife and the make-up here, with its tendency towards shimmery pink lipstick, irritatingly anachronistic.

Homer is on the brink of manhood, stepping up to the plate by taking a job as a bike courier, quickly branded "the fastest moving thing in this valley" by new boss Tom Spangler (Hamish Linklater) and slotting smoothly into the easygoing environment of the office where grizzled telegraph operator Willie Grogan (Sam Shepard) metes out advice and humour in equal measure. He soon comes to realise that there is the official equivalent of a poison pen letter doing the rounds. One that begins: "The Department of War regrets". The scene in which Homer has to deliver the first of these telegrams exemplifies what is right with the film, as the recipient holds tight to her grief, realising immediately the weight that has fallen on the delivery boy's shoulders.

Such moments, along with some nicely pitched segments involving Homer's adventurous and adorable tow-headed younger brother Ulysees (Spencer Howell) are bright spots in a general mire of lifeless dialogue and letter-reading voiceover, which overplays its emotional hand. The cinematography from Andrew Dunn is warmly enjoyable - all burnished wood and glowing sunlight - but there's something irretrievably fake about the staging, such as the gaggle of young kids who turn up like a chorus on the streets of the town as though they're fresh from a stage version of Annie. There are also one or two continuity issues that wouldn't matter in a more engrossing film but, here, serve only to pull you further from the narrative.

An odyssey should be an epic adventure filled with discovery but we know the well-worn route Ithaca will take only too well.

Reviewed on: 03 Jul 2016
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Story of a teenager who delivers telegrams during the Second World War.

Director: Meg Ryan

Writer: Erik Jendresen, based on the novel by William Saroyan

Starring: Alex Neustaedter, Meg Ryan, Sam Shepard, Hamish Linklater, Jack Quaid, Gabriel Basso, Tom Hanks, Molly Gordon, Scott Shepherd, Emily Marie Palmer, Zachary Webber, Christine Nelson, Ramsey Hanchette, Eugenia Gonzales, Alex Miller

Year: 2015

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: US


EIFF 2016

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