With Ithaca, Meg Ryan has created for her first feature film as director a beautiful looking on screen piece of work that looks like it has brought to life images of a long gone America just after the attack on Pearl Harbour and American entry into WW2 in 1943. The images here invoke those classic Saturday Evening Post magazine covers by artists like Stevan Dohanos, John Falter and of course Norman Rockwell. Sitting watching this wonderful piece of cinematography on the big screen is almost at times like falling into a painting by Edward Hopper.
This is, like the best of stories a simple one; 14 year old Homer Macauley (Alex Neustaedter) has got himself an after school job as a telegram messenger and his older brother Marcus (Jack Quad) is a new patriotic recruit into the U.S. army soon to be sent into battle to fight in Europe.
Homer has grown up in the almost idyllic town of Ithaca into an almost idyllic American family – Mrs Macauley (Meg Ryan), Mr Macauley (Tom Hanks), sister Beth (Christine Nelson) and baby brother Ulysses (Spencer Howell).
The move to becoming a messenger boy swiftly takes Homer out of his childhood and into facing the grim realities of adulthood. As a messenger, he delivers many types of telegrams, including those from the War Department to tell people that their loved ones have been killed in action. Homer finds himself becoming an unwelcome "messenger of death" to people. As Homer goes about his delivery duties, nothing in his hometown seems the same anymore and unfolding events will ensure that it never again is. Some nice scenes here too between Homer and the telegraph office manager Tom Spangler (Hamish Linklater) and the old telegraph operator Willie Grogan (Sam Shepard).
There are some truly memorable visuals in this film, but my favourite is the nighttime street scene outside the local cinema with its period vehicles lined up on the road…an image captured in so many great photographs of the period. Add to this original music by John Mellencamp, and this is just a wonderful film told with dialogue that never seems to waste a word or have an extra un-needed word in it.
Ithaca of course is a homage to an almost perfect “mom’s apple pie “ vintage America that is particularly American in its nostalgia, but also one that from magazine and television images of the period we have become so familiar with over here in the UK. Like all nostalgia trips, how much like the original time is this work really? That does not really matter here, because this film just captures an enduring image of a time that many people wish they could go back to...a simpler time when as in this film boys like young Ulysses could just go out and play in the great outdoors with their friends and get lost at night, but be found again completely unharmed…an image of course forever shattered by World War 2.
23 June, 18:25 at Filmhouse 1
24 June, 20:40 at Cineworld 3
Review by Tom King