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‘A Home of Our Own’ (PG)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 05, 1993

About halfway through Tony Bill's "A Home of Our Own," the manager of the bowling alley where Frances Lacey (Kathy Bates) has gone looking for a job quite reasonably asks his applicant what she does.

"Work," she barks back. "It's all I've ever done."

At which point you half expect the film to grind to a halt so that Bates can be awarded the Nobel Prize for Spunky Martyrdom.

People often ask why they don't make 'em like they used to, and the answer is, because they come out looking like this corny, unconvincing tale of courage and perseverance and All-American pluck. Sixty years ago Louis B. Mayer used to specialize in this sort of sentimental malarkey, but seldom since his heyday has anything so blatantly full of bunk hit our movie screens.

Beginning in Los Angeles in 1962, "A Home of Our Own" tells the sad saga of the Lacey family. If ever a family was snakebit, it's the Laceys; they're like a whole houseful of Jobs. Stuff just happens to them, but as with those boxing dummies, every time they get knocked down they bounce back up again. Early on, a rude foreman sexually harasses Bates and, after reading him the riot act, she marches out, packs up her six kids and heads off, destination unknown.

For a while they drive through the West hoping to find a decent place to put down roots. And just as their dilapidated Plymouth is about to expire, Frances sees a half-finished house on the side of the road in Nowheresville, Idaho, and decides that this is the place. As it turns out, the house belongs to a gentle-souled Japanese American named Mr. Munimura (Soon-Teck Oh), and after a little not-so-subtle arm-twisting, she cuts a deal: They clean his house down the street and help him run his nursery and in general agree to be his slaves, and in return they get the half-finished house.

Of course, Frances insists on paying off her debt, not just with sweat but with cash too. As we learn through several incidents, Frances has a thing about being in debt to anyone. Especially men. Whom she's avoided like the plague ever since her experience with "that goddamn vagabond Irish Catholic son of a bitch" (i.e. her estranged husband). At one point she is invited out by an interested co-worker (played by Tony Campisi, Bates's real-life husband) but refuses to accept until he offers to throw in "20 feet of conduit" to help with the completion of the family homestead.

Simply put, this is just not the way the world works. But Bill -- working with a script by Patrick Duncan -- doesn't let that deter him from shamelessly pretending that it is. In this regard, Bates is more Bill's pitchman than his star. As Frances, she plunges into every situation with her jaw set. Frances doesn't mope over her troubles, she takes action. She's indomitable, even when disaster strikes and all appears lost, even when her oldest child, Shayne (played solidly by Edward Furlong), rebels against her perpetual optimism.

But if Shayne represents the voice of realism, the movie ultimately proves him wrong. The preposterously upbeat ending is a last-ditch effort to convince us that we live in a fairy tale. Given the state of the nation, every fiber in our national being may yearn for some ray of hope, some confirmation that family will prevail, and honest labor will be rewarded. But because of the dishonest way this worldview is packaged here, the best advice is "buyer beware."

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