“A Country Called Home” makes a sturdy enough indie star vehicle for the criminally under-heralded Imogen Poots (“Need for Speed,” “That Awkward Moment”).
She plays Ellie, who ventures to the small town in Texas where her wayward, alcoholic father has just died.
Ellie might have had some company for the trip, but her older brother (Shea Whigham) isn’t having it. Dad ran out on them decades before. Let whoever’s stuck with him now deal with him.
But after Ellie flies into Austin and ventures into the boonies (Smithville and Bastrop, Texas provided locations), we and she start to learn a little something about the boozer.
When he was sober and stable — in stretches — he was a luthier, a guitar and violin maker.
But he never really got sober. Amanda (Mary McCormack), his tippling lady friend who was there at the end, is proof of that. Amanda is sober enough to guilt Ellie about “the least you can do” when Ellie wavers, ready to turn tail and flee. “Stay until he’s in the ground,” at least.
So Ellie does. She meets the grandparents (June Squibb of “Nebraska”) she never knew, and the town that produced her father.
“We ALL know who HE was, don’t we?”
Even a priest skitters out when Dad’s name is mentioned to a store clerk.
It’s a backward hole, and as Ellie explores it in Dad’s 1960s Studebaker station wagon, she stumbles across the closed-in lives that produced him.
Tall model-pretty Mackenzie Davis (“The Martian”) has a showy supporting part, playing Reno, the only lesbian in town (apparently). She wears a bolo, cowboy hat and boots. But she can’t get through a whole song at the local honky tonk without rednecks chasing her off the stage.
Real-life country singer Ryan Bingham (he wrote “Crazy Heart” for Jeff Bridges) plays Amanda’s surly, solid citizen son, a single-dad slow to warm to Ellie’s Los Angeles charms.
Local yokel jokes, clumsily performed by (apparently) amateur supporting actors and utterly generic situations mar director Anna Axter’s quiet study of a people and place. The odd moment with edge — Whigham’s brother listing his father’s first love “booze, money to buy booze” etc., Ellie’s first attempt at standing up to someone — is smothered in the surrounding banality.
But Poots, Davis, McCormack, Squibb and Whigham quickly sketch in interesting, if not quite compelling characters. And they, more than the story or locale, make “A Country Called Home” worth a brief visit.
MPAA Rating: unrated, adult situations, profanity, alcohol abuse
Running time: 1:32