Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
The Way Home tells “the true story” of the Simpkins family, a couple in the Deep South that one day loses their two-year-old son on their 80-acre farm. Over the course of a remarkable day, municipal search and rescue teams join forces with the sheriff’s office, news crews, family friends, and scores of complete strangers to comb hundreds of acres of surrounding forested farm land in a hunt for the missing child. The closer it gets to dark, of course, the chances of finding the child alive diminish rapidly.
I know, I know… we’ve all heard that “based on a true story” line so often it has almost become meaningless, particularly in light of the last twenty years or so of “reality” TV. Even with unscripted shows, we know that storylines are juiced and manipulated; so how “real” can a non-documentary feature film be?
Well, get this. Randy and Christal Simpkins, the subjects of the film, have cameo appearances in the film in other roles; the film was shot on the actual locations where the events occurred; the cast stayed in the Simpkins’ home while shooting. When the real-life fact is that one of the searchers was “off to the left” of his father, well, in the film he is also… guess what? Off to the left of his father.
Writer, producer, and director Lance W. Dreesen has done a remarkable job of adapting this film in a way that, as near as I can tell, hews almost unbelievably close to the actual events. When Randy Simpkins remarks, “The Way Home doesn’t tell our story; it is our story,” the assertion is completely credible.
Movie reviewers are rarely in a position to “willingly suspend our disbelief,” even when we just watch a movie “for fun.” Countless are the times I’ve started to screen a movie and then just turned it off because it lost me for any of a number of reasons. So when I start a movie, my B.S. Meter is pitched high. It never peeped once during this film, in spite of the usual handful of clunky performances from minor characters that you find in low-budget indies.
In the lead roles, Dean Cain and Lori Beth Edgeman are not only serviceable and credible; they are flawless. You believe them as a couple having real-life versions of Dick Van Dyke Show petty marital squabbles. You understand the emotional roller coaster they ride through that day as the loss of their son proves the catalyst to bring them closer together, and closer to God. They are the perfect tinsel-townish counterparts to the real Randy and Christal, the ideal audience connection point with this very moving and affecting story.
And wherever Dreesen found the toddler who plays the two-year-old Joe Simpkins, well… can that effort just be cloned every time a near-infant has to carry a classic supporting role in a feature film? I’m serious. The very young Pierce Gagnon should have won some kind of indie-film, direct-to-DVD Oscar.
If you have the slightest interest in watching a film that speaks volumes about faith and the power of America’s heartland—minus car chases, explosions, and gratuitous sex—you can’t hardly go wrong with The Way Home.
You can watch The Way Home for free on Tubi. It’s also available to stream for a small charge at the usual outlets.