Friday 1 November 2019

Outen about: "Home"

The concept of home has become so fraught - as the structures set in place around us fall under renewed and heated discussion - that capital-H Home now rivals Mother (exclamation marked or otherwise) as the cinema's most shopworn title: over the past decade alone, it's graced an oddball Swiss parable with Isabelle Huppert heading a family living alongside an unfinished motorway, and a middling DreamWorks digimation best remembered for deploying the vocal talents of Rihanna. This year's Home - which risks further confusion with the excellent Channel 4 sitcom of the same name - is a documentary, directed by Jen Randall, which follows Sarah Outen, the twentysomething who set off from Tower Bridge in 2011 and went on to spend much of this decade anywhere other than in her own bed, cycling and kayaking around the world as part of a single-handed, single-minded circumnavigation attempt. Given the state her homeland fell into in her absence, we can hardly blame her for pushing off and staying away. The film she and Randall now bring back to us does not lack for adventure: here is a plucky, resilient young woman in the image of Jules Verne's Phileas Fogg, going out of her way to preserve the integrity of the straight line she's plotted around the globe, taping a stream of remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime images en route. As we gawp at this ever-changing scenery, we realise we, too, are being invited to travel around the world - this time not in eighty days, but ninety minutes.

That's a bit too speedily, it transpires. Home's problems derive from the attempt to turn a long, oft-interrupted itinerary into a properly satisfying film experience: it has arresting episodes and stretches, but tails off in its second half, as Outen's original goal drifts out of reach. Obliged to pack a lot in, Randall tends to scurry past practical obstacles (visa trouble, punctures, a hole in a kayak) and personal issues (Outen's growing solitude) alike. At several points, Outen (who narrates) confesses she was "only just holding it together", yet the footage of her smiling self doesn't match up; Randall has to resort to superficial effects - scribbling over Outen's face - to suggest some inner turmoil. Perhaps the aim was to portray Outen as unstoppable, and we can only draw that conclusion from the footage of her steering through a typhoon in the Pacific Ocean. Yet some measure of problem-solving might have been revealing, and the film's psychology isn't quite there: we're never told why Outen is making this colossal effort - nor, indeed, how it is she can, though you'll have theories. It's always odd when a documentary as straightahead as this sets one to thinking about the British class system, but you can't really ignore that the well-spoken, rosy-cheeked Oxford graduate Outen derives from a social stratum that privileges her with the money to travel - and the confidence simply to strike out without analysing her actions unduly. In this, she's not unlike so many explorers through the ages - and Home retains some interest as a visual scrapbook, illustrating the pleasures and rewards of perpetual motion, putting yourself out there. Yet much unfinished business lurks in the closing title cards - baggage the main feature doesn't have the journalistic rigour to sort through and address. You can't fail to warm to Outen as she growls at bears and barks at the seals impeding her progress, but Randall's film needed a surer sense of interiority to function as anything more than a wideranging video diary.

Home is now playing in selected cinemas.

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