Fanny Veliz's Homebound is a touching, authentic drama that proves you can indeed go home again.
An ambitious young man (Jeremiah Ocanas) returns to his small hometown in Texas to discover his estranged father is dying of cancer, forcing him to face his unresolved issues and reconsider what happiness truly is.
Directed by Fanny Veliz.
Although I consider myself a fan of independent films, even I admit that they are often a hit-or-miss proposition. Many suffer either from a budget that restricts the scope of the story that must be told, or from production values and acting that aren’t up to the standards we expect from Hollywood. On rare occasions, however, an independent film manages to suspend disbelief and entertain, and never once make you think about the fact that it was produced on a small budget.
And so it was with great trepidation that I approached Homebound, an independent film recommended to me by Juan Garcia of Encuentro Mundial de Cine, a Latino Film Festival series held in various cities. It is one thing to find fault with a film when the filmmaker and its supporters are Hollywood heavyweights who will most likely never read your critique. It is quite another to know that a filmmaker will be looking out for your review, hoping it will bring more attention to their project. In the case of Homebound, I also had the opportunity to interview Fanny Veliz, the director and co-star, shortly after viewing the film.
Thankfully, the film didn’t put me in an awkward situation, because Homebound is an emotional gem of a film. It is an earnest drama that doesn’t pull punches and connects with viewers because it feels authentic, an accomplishment very few films can claim these days.
Homebound tells the story of Richard Escamilla (Jeremiah Ocanas), a young man working hard to succeed in business in Los Angeles. Just when it looks like everything is coming together, he is summoned back to his home of El Campo, Texas, a sleepy town southwest of Houston. Richard has no desire to go back, having left El Campo and his father Gilberto (Enrique Castillo) in his rear view mirror. Richard resents Gilberto for owning a bar in the town, as it was where his mother died while working there one night. Richard holds a secret desire to burn the bar down because of it, but even that dream is derailed when he learns Gilberto is dying of cancer.
Gilberto’s illness forces Richard to stay in El Campo far longer than he expected, as he ends up having to get his father’s affairs in order. During this time, he begins to reconnect with his old friends and the people he left behind. He also grows close to Sofia (Fanny Veliz), a Venezuelan immigrant who speaks very little English yet runs Gilberto’s bar. Richard connects with Sofia, even though he speaks very little Spanish, and he forms an unlikely relationship with Sofia’s young son Sebastian (Cristobal Lamas).
Even though he feels the pull of home, Richard resists, and when he hears rumors about his father and Sofia, things get a little more than complicated. This sets up an impactful third act, full of revelations and confessions that have lasting effects on everyone involved.
Homebound will likely remind you of films like Places in the Heart and The Spitfire Grill, both human dramas set against the backdrop of small town life. Homebound, however, has a modern setting and a Latino twist, but it would be wrong to pigeon-hole the film as purely Hispanic fare. Indeed, Homebound transcends the culture portrayed and connects on a very personal level. It never plays to cultural stereotypes, and the relationships have such an authenticity that, at times, the film almost feels like a documentary.
The film works because of the fantastic performance of Enrique Castillo, who brings the perfect balance of endearing stubbornness to the character of Gilberto. He really propels the film, and even though his character’s pride is often the source of trouble, Castillo still manages to make Gilberto a sympathetic character.
Jeremiah Ocanas is solid in the lead role of Richard, but in truth, he has a thankless role. He must not only be the protagonist, he must also generate the negativity the viewers must experience. That means being a douchebag sometimes, and in turn, it hurts his likeability with the viewer. If there is a weak point in the picture, it is the fact that Ocanas doesn’t quite have the range to pull off such a complicated character and still win the audience over. He does, however, deliver when he needs to, when the film reaches its emotional climax.
Fanny Veliz is excellent as Sofia, who somehow manages to present a well-developed character despite having only a few lines. As both writer and director of the film, she could have given her character a bit too much prominence, but instead, Sofia bridges the emotional gap between Gilberto and Richard with a nice, nuanced performance.
Also of note is Julia Vera, who appears in a small but pivotal role as Richard’s grandmother. Though she has only a few scenes, she makes the most of them by taking elements of everyone’s grandmother and rolling them into one character, and she is a big part of that authentic feel that makes Homebound work.
As both director and writer, Veliz knows the material, and is smart enough to know when to dial back on the drama before it gets manipulative or sappy. She also isn’t afraid to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. At one point, Gilberto and Richard are walking through a field that Gilberto purchased, but his dreams for it died with his wife. Veliz lingers on Gilberto’s face as he and Richard watch the sun set, and Castillo’s look provides all of the feelings the scene called for without saying a word. You see the faded hope and regret that washes over his stubborn pride, and you finally get the character. It is perhaps the film’s most perfect moment.
Homebound is that rare independent film that delivers on its potential. It is well crafted, with strong performances, resulting in a film that is a pleasant surprise. There is some profanity in the film which puts it out of the suitability range of young kids, and it really wasn’t necessary. However, the film excels in every other aspect, making for a truly unique and satisfying viewing experience. What could have been standard TV drama fare is elevated into something special.
Homebound is screening in various cities across the United States thanks to Tugg, a service that arranges theater screenings supported by ticket sales. Click here to visit the Homebound page on the Tugg website and purchase tickets to a future screening or arrange a screening in your town.