Cars whizzing by, a young woman sits alone on a freeway off-ramp with a backpack. We get the sense that she has been here many times and despite her youth, she is not afraid. She sneaks into a youth shelter, steals something, and runs. This is Tracy – a homeless heroin-addicted eighteen-year old, hardened by years of living on the streets.
We meet another girl who is ridiculed and tormented by her classmates at school. It’s very clear that this is not a one-time incident and that she has undergone this persecution for quite some time. This is Elly – a thirteen-year old who is sexually abused at home by her stepbrother but chooses to keeps this horrible secret to herself, fearing that no one will believe her.
Directors Jessica Blank – who wrote the book on which the film is based - and Erik Jensen have woven a tale of two girls from vastly different backgrounds who establish a connection forged by necessity.
An Unconventional Relationship
What makes Almost Home different from the countless other depictions of troubled youth in America is the complex nature of the bond between Tracy and Elly. Tracy takes on the role of older sister to Elly, giving Tracy a purpose beyond daily survival. In playing that role, she comes to Elly’s rescue in several instances, but at the same time, she also uses her as bait in order to feed her heroin addiction. Elly, in her role as the younger sister, naively clings to Tracy even when she is betrayed and temporarily abandoned by her.
Hannah Marks gives an effective, layered performance as Tracy. It is clear that behind Tracy’s tough exterior there lies an extremely vulnerable girl who has endured loss and tragedy in her young life. While most girls Tracy’s age are heading towards college and figuring out what they want to do with their lives, Tracy’s day-to-day living hinges on finding a place to sleep and enough food to eat. Newcomer Rachel Zimmerman endows Elly with a fragility of one who has been damaged and feels completely isolated from the world around her but who, through the course of her journey with Tracy, learns to stand up for herself.
A Family of Outcasts
Tracy and Elly, through their Los Angeles street journeys, come across a group of other discarded youths rejected by their homes and society. At times, they appear to be just a bunch of kids, playing on swings, trying to replicate a normal childhood and truly looking out for one another. However, the harsh reality of street life comes crashing down as we are forced to watch scenes of rape, drug addiction and solicitation as means of survival. Niko Guardado, Max Burkholder, Sean Martini, and Sam Dillon are all convincing as the gang of misfits who form this transitional family unit.
A Beautiful Exterior Hides an Ugly Reality
The beautiful palm trees, gorgeous sunsets and clear blue skies of Los Angeles obscure a problem no one wants to address – youth homelessness. Through several montages, Blank and Jensen are able to achieve the dichotomy of the trouble-free illusion of sunny California with the brutality of teenagers living on the streets.
This film would appeal to those who gravitate towards small, slice-of-life films. Almost Home is a simple film that doesn’t rely on shock value to get its point across.
Premiered at the 2018 Woodstock Film Festival. Visit them at Woodstock Film Festival
About the Author:
Rachel Errington is a New York-based actor, producer and writer, originally from Los Angeles. She recently produced and performed in “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” a short film headed for the festival circuit. Rachel graduated from Northwestern with a degree in Theatre. Favorite roles include Beatrice from “A View from the Bridge,” and the title roles in “Medea” and “Miss Julie.” You can learn more about Rachel at www.rachelerrington.com.