Author(s): Ben Miller
Location: Canyon, Texas
Directed by Mike Newell
Written by Richard Russo & Robert Benton
Produced by Joe Roth
Bruce Willis as Mark Williamson
Catherine O’Hara as Denise Williamson (Mark’s Wife)
Shia LeBeouf as Lucas Williamson (Mark’s Son)
Emily Browning as Katelyn Williamson (Mark’s Daughter)
Brittany Snow as Lauren Cox (Katelyn’s Friend)
Adam Brody as Brad Battle (Lucas’ Friend)
Mos Def as Marvin Sinclair (Mark’s Co-worker/Friend)
Gabriel Union as Nicole Sinclair (Marvin’s Wife)
Cliff Curtis as Mohammad Al-Shabbas (Mark’s Boss)
Jonathan Ahdout as Zahid Al-Mohad (Young Kuwaiti)
Tagline: “It’s not home…and it will never be”
Synopsis: The Williamson’s aren’t much different from a normal American family. The children Lucas, 17 and Katelyn, 15 enjoy their lives as does their mother, Denise, and the father, Mark. Mark is a successful regional manager of a major oil company and does right for himself and his family.
One day, Mark is offered a job overseas in the small Middle-East country of Kuwait. On consulting with Denise, Mark takes the job and three weeks later, the family is in Kuwait. While encountering a few bumps, Mark and Denise adapt to their environment, but the same can’t be said for their children. Lucas is devastated to be taken out of his American setting that he is accustomed to and enjoys while Katelyn welcomes the environment but believes that her social troubles she experienced in the states will translate into similar results in the Middle East.
Despite being loners for the first couple of days, Lucas and Katelyn venture out to meet the other high schoolers in the compound in which they live. Lucas meets a boy his age named Brad. Brad has just moved to Kuwait also but has grown up overseas. Katelyn meets a girl Lucas’ age named Lauren. Lauren has lived in Kuwait for three years and is well-oriented in everything a teenager needs to know to get by. Later that day, all four converge and begin to bond. Despite the meeting of friends, Lucas still does not enjoy his situation and falls into depression. Katelyn begins to hang out with Lauren on a regular basis, despite their age difference.
Mark is back in the office, constantly busy. He meets a younger man named Marvin who has been in Kuwait for six months and tells Mark what to expect. Upon further conversation, each man suggests that their wives should meet. Marvin’s wife, Nicole, begins a friendship with Denise which spreads to their children. The entire family is met with challenges when September 11th occurs while they are in the Middle East. They have trouble deciding when and where to be patriotic and what the repercussions may be.
The story continues with the various emotional difficulties the family faces. Lucas confronts Mark on not including Katelyn and himself in the decision to move, while Katelyn confronts Denise on her true intentions of agreeing to move in the first place. Mark confronts his boss concerning his racism toward Marvin, the children occupying their time with various “questionable” activities, Lucas confronts a young Kuwaiti concerning remarks about 9/11, and all the teenagers accidentally catch Marvin and Nicole’s bedroom activities.
Despite some fond memories, both children look back on their time overseas with contempt, believing their parents ruined their best years. It proves the hypocrisy of the children as they spout nothing but laughter and stories of their time overseas but bash it with little feedback while the parents regret nothing about their time spent abroad.
What the press would say:There have been many films dealing with the plight of Middle Easterners living within the United States but this one takes a different turn with a story of an American family adapting to Middle East life. Bruce Willis plays the patriarch of the family and is the reason for the move in the first place. He conveys such silent intimidation from his children but is tender and caring when the time calls. Catherine O’Hara plays the mother and provides a delicate hold for the rest of the family to grasp. O’Hara sways from her comedic roles and delivers nuance and undelivered guilt for the plight of her children. The son and daughter roles are played brilliantly by Shia LeBeouf and Emily Browning. Browning is more of a balls-out type and almost plays the role like a older sibling instead of the baby of the family. Her powerful performance plays well with the screenplay’s strong points. LeBeouf conveys suppressed anger as well as innocence. For one scene, he can be kind and selfless while the next be screaming at his father or at an Arab student who forgets to choose his words. The incredible performance may seem uneven on paper, but when translated onto the screen, the young actor never deviates. Mos Def also provides fantastic supporting work as a co-worker of Willis’ character who is not only a friend to the family, but fights his own fights against his boss’s racism. This film points to all the juxtaposition in the world about race, creed and social standing but refuses to be political. It would be simple to turn this film into a puff piece about the evils of the US in the Middle East, but it refuses and becomes something so much greater.
For Your Consideration:
Best Director: Mike Newell
Best Actor: Bruce Willis
Best Actress: Catherine O’Hara
Best Supporting Actor: Shia LeBeouf
Best Supporting Actor: Mos Def
Best Supporting Actress: Emily Browning
Best Original Screenplay: Richard Russo & Robert Benton