Courtland (Cullen Moss, television's The Walking Dead) is a teacher who has lost his wife and job who takes a quiet solace in the comfort of his books. Courtland's extended family has always been a lot more complicated, but things get really complicated when his step-sister dies and he's left with temporary guardianship while helping to find a permanent home for Oskar (Abel Zukerman), a withdrawn young man slow to open up and even slower to find comfort with the slew of new strangers he is now required to meet.
It's not often that one finds a feature film, or at least a narrative feature film, created with such a compassionate purpose as National Adoption Day, but such is the case with Finding Home, a 72-minute feature film that is just beginning its festival journey after privately screening for a National Adoption Day event in Wilmington, North Carolina in late 2015.
The film is a warm, winning film that you might expect to carry the "Dove Approved" Seal of Approval, a largely family friendly and often faith-based label identifying those films with strong family values and devoid of many of the distractions of contemporary cinema. This is not to say that Finding Home doesn't deal with a difficult subject matter - perhaps there's nothing more difficult than a child left suddenly without a home or a connection or a place to belong. Yet, writer/director Nick Westfall has crafted a film that is a refreshingly simple and straightforward tale of figuring out what "normal" is for a family then setting that sense of normalcy aside and living into what it's truly meant to be.
Finding Home is a low-budget effort, a fact I'm sometimes hesitant to mention yet an important fact when you consider the fact that Westfall has managed to attract both a quality cast and a top notch production team that puts out a film of a much higher quality than you might expect when you find less than six-figure filmmaking. Cullen Moss, an often supporting actor who may leave you thinking "I've seen that guy somewhere before," has made appearances in such film and television programs as The Walking Dead, The Notebook, Dear John and Iron Man 3 among others. Yet Moss has seldom been offered the chance to truly shine like he does here in Finding Home portraying a character who may very well be as lost yet as good-hearted and pure as is Oskar. It's a fine performance and his chemistry with Zukerman is sincere and believable.
Newcomer Abel Zukerman makes a promising debut as young Oskar, nicely capturing the young man's obvious trauma over the death of his mother and his sense of overwhelm at the world into which he's now thrust and his uncertainty with a seemingly resistant Courtland. It's a solid performance and it'll be interesting to see where Zukerman goes from here.
While much of Finding Home centers around Courtland and Oskar, kudos must be given to Tamara Mercer for an absolutely terrific performance as Sophie, who captures both the wide-eyed enthusiasm of a really good social worker and the "by the books" harshness that social work can all too often turn out to be. Mercer's Sophie wears her heart on her sleeve, yet equally convinces in turning around and finishing the three hours of paperwork that follows. Mercer is easily the film's not so hidden gem.
Westfall's script finds a terrific balance in the story, at times becoming frustrated with the system itself yet nicely never attacking those who try to make it all work. When Oskar moves toward adoption that we can all, we being the audience, simply know doesn't feel right it's refreshing that instead of painting in broad, negative strokes Westfall simply brings it all back to what serves as the film's central concept - it's all about the kids.
Finding Home is, at its very essence, a wise little film that recognizes the value of undefining what it means to be "normal," whether we're talking about people or families or life itself. While the film's ultimate story arc may feel predictable, it's the best kind of predictable - a winning story about characters we grow to care about finally getting to live lives surrounded by love and meaning. With accompanying music by Seth Gearheart that hits all the right notes and D.P. Ethan Sigmon's observational and patient lensing, Finding Home will find a home in your heart.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic