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Thursday, February 27, 2014

"Far From Home" (1989) - Drew Barrymore Sizzles in the Desert Heat

It's Hot in the Desert in "Far From Home," and it's Not Just Because of the The Sun

Far From Home Drew Barrymore

There are films to watch not because they are cinematic classics, but simply because they are light on the mind, easy on the eye, have a weird and creepy vibe, and pass the time in interesting surroundings. Such is the case with "Far From Home" (1989), a Lightning Pictures/Planet Productions thriller directed by Meiert Avis and set in a nowhere town in the middle of the desert. Shot where the "Burning Man" festival takes place in Black Rock Desert, the scenery is stunning. While Drew Barrymore did not even draw top billing, she dominates this film and is the real reason to watch it today (with all due respect to the other great talent involved, and there is a lot for such an unknown film).

Far From Home Drew Barrymore
Drew plays Joleen, who is bored by her father's companionship.

After taking a cross-country vacation with his daughter Joleen, writer Charlie Cox is driving home to LA when he runs out of gas in a small Nevada desert town. There is no gas to be had, so they are stranded. Joleen is a precocious teenager just learning about life and love, and Charlie wants to get her home before her 14th birthday in a few days. Little do they know that their time in Banco, Nevada will be more exciting than any birthday.

Far From Home Drew Barrymore
Joleen starts to wonder what is going on in the small town

While trying to find someone to sell them some gas, the two enter a small supermarket only to stumble across a dead body. It is the store's owner, covered in blood. After leaving the scene with the local sheriff in charge, they meet Duckett, a friendly Vietnam Vet who runs the only gas station in town. He tells them there is no gas in town, and the supply truck won't be there for another day at least.

Far From Home Drew Barrymore
Joleen checks out their "overpriced camper" lodging

Not wanting to camp out in their car, Charlie books them into the Palomino Guest Ranch and Trailer Park, owned by Agnes Reed. Agnes has a son, Jimmy Reed, who is about Jolene's age. She also meets Pinky Sears, another teen who lives in the trailer park. That night, while Agnes is taking a bath, somebody pushes a fan into her bathtub and she is electrocuted.

Far From Home Drew Barrymore
A promo still from "Far From Home"

The next day, Jimmy, who had tried to seduce Joleen the day before, loses control and tries to rape Joleen. She fights him off with the help of Pinky, but doesn't make a fuss about it. Charlie, now desperate to get them out of town despite the fact that the fuel truck hasn't shown up, tries to arrange a ride with neighbors Louise and Amy, but before they can leave, somebody blows up their car - with Amy in it.

Far From Home Drew Barrymore
The Palomino has a great pool

Joleen has been keeping a diary, and somebody steals it. Jimmy, who affects a "wild boy" attitude, tries to rob Duckett's gas station, and winds up being accused of that and the recent murders.

Far From Home Drew Barrymore
While bathing, Joleen hears something strange

Duckett wants to talk to Pinky's mother about it, but when he goes to her trailer, he finds that she has been killed and her body preserved in ice. Pinky arrives and stabs him with a screwdriver. He runs off to his secret hideaway, and Joleen runs after him. She finds her diary there and realizes that Pinky is the real killer.

Far From Home Drew Barrymore
Another promo still from "Far From Home"

Duckett, who survived the attack, then radios the Sheriff and tells him that Pinky is the killer and has abducted Joleen. They all head to Pinky's hideaway, where Pinky kills the Sheriff.

Far From Home Drew Barrymore
Andras Jones and Drew Barrymore

Pinky is obsessed with Joleen. He chases after her when she tries to escape and corners her in a radio tower. When Charlie tries to rescue Joleen, Pinky beats him off, injuring Charlie's hand.

Far From Home Drew Barrymore
Even at this age, Drew Barrymore could act up a storm

Now temporarily safe with Joleen on the tower, Pinky professes his love for her. Duckett, a skilled marksman from his war days, managed to use a rifle to shoot Pinky, who falls off the tower and dies. Duckett then explains that Pinky probably lost his mind when his mother got sick and died. All of the murders were simply Pinky's attempt to keep Joleen in town long enough for him to seduce her. Badly shaken, Charlie, Joleen and Louise get some gasoline and leave Banco behind.

Far From Home Drew Barrymore
Drew Barrymore a few years later. You can tell the difference between the raw innocence of "Far From Home" and her later studied charm.

For an unknown low-budget film, the quality of "Far From Home" is quite high. The atmosphere is moody and subdued, reflecting a childlike view of normality intermixed with bouts of unexpected terror. Matt Frewer, better known as tv's Max Headroom and the Trashcan Man from Stephen King's "The Stand," does a fine job as Charlie. Richard Masur, a widely-respected actor, is amiable as Duckett. Anthony Rapp, in only his second film role and who much later did "Rent," is crazily creepy as the disturbed Pinky, while Jennifer Tilly, early in her career and still taking bit parts, is a standout as ditzy Amy. While "Far From Home" probably isn't at the top of any of their resumes, they turn in quality performances that make the film eminently watchable. Scenes were filmed on location at American Flats near Virginia City Nevada, giving the setting a spooky and quite original backdrop that you won't see very many other places. There also is an early remark by Joleen about her father still typing on a typewriter "instead of a computer like everyone else," which underscores the period of transition when this film was made.

Drew Barrymore Far From Home

Director Meiert is an Irishman who got his start in documentaries and then switched to music videos and commercials. It was a fairly common career path in the 1980s, when music videos were in vogue, and Meiert was in the thick of it (he worked with U2 as well). "Far From Home" was his first film, and his original take on standard scenes (he does not rely on cheap slasher thrills, but instead emphasizes the characters' emotional journey) is refreshing. Meiert recalls:
Drew kept it all together. Funny as hell. She always had her lines well prepared, full of life. A professional. Matt Frewer is the funniest man on earth. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a comedy.
Meiert recalls that the production company, Vestron, was in Chapter 11 when the film was released, destroying its marketability and basically consigning it to oblivion. Meiert aptly sums up "Far From Home" as "'Psycho' for teenagers." You may read the complete interview here.

Far From Home Drew Barrymore Andras Jones
Drew Barrymore with bad boy Andras Jones

I'm not trying to pawn this off as better than it is - there is overacting galore, silly "thriller" moments, implausible situations (such as Pinky's hideout, which is a trip to see, or the idea that you could electrocute someone with a house fan, which is quite impossible), overuse of the phrases "far out" and "man," and the usual '80s touches. Richard Masur in particular overdoes it at times with his take on Dennis Hopper's crazed hippie from "Apocalypse Now," but at other moments he is quite effective and a formidable presence. Susan Tyrrell, as Jimmy's mother, goes way, way over the top (perhaps intentionally to establish her character quickly), but at least manages to leave a mark with her character. Director Avis overdoes his use of the fisheye lens, but maintains a fine pacing with strong characterizations.

Far From Home Drew Barrymore Andras Jones
The Anthony Rapp and Drew Barrymore characters develop a strange bond

There isn't much to the movie, but it is a nice time capsule of 1989. Make no mistake, some people are not going to like this at all and will consider it a complete waste of time. For what it is, though, a typical thriller of the time that is a half-step above a tv "movie of the week," "Far From Home" is quite passable.

Far From Home Drew Barrymore
A typical knowing gaze from Drew Barrymore

Yes, this film is about more than Drew. However, the other actors could all emote at the level of Laurence Olivier and Meryl Streep and that still wouldn't be the reason to hunt down the quite rare "Far From Home." Instead, it is Drew Barrymore, who pulls off a stunning acting job as the "no longer a girl, not yet a woman" role of the naive Joleen, who is the gem in the tiara. She conveys an innocent girl at a very fleeting moment of her life who is barely in control of her own hormones and thus willingly and naively places herself in dangerous situations. It is a very down-to-earth characterization, one you will probably recognize from someone you know. Obviously, she is a victim who deserves nothing that happens to her, but the film is effective at showing how she places herself in position to suffer her own difficulties.

Drew Barrymore Far From Home
Drew's appearance is amazing, but she always remains in character.

Drew actually was about her character's age at the time of filming, and she still has her baby fat, but otherwise she has the appearance and poise of a mature woman. She does a nice job of acting tired of her father's company, then possessive when his attentions seem to wander toward Amy and Louise, then drawn like a moth to a flame by the boys in town. Director Avis hit the jackpot of catching Drew at a unique moment in her life. This was made during a period of her life when Drew claims that she was fighting off various addictions, and though there is no evidence of that in the film and she is the very picture of health, you can quite understand how Drew's electric mixture of youth and maturity could have led her down the wrong path whilst around the wrong crowd.

This is one of my personal "guilty pleasures." If you are a Drew Barrymore fan, "Far From Home" is well worth seeking out.

Below is the full movie.



  1. Hi, I interviewed the director Meiert Avis. We do talk about the film. The link can be found at

    1. Thank you, I have incorporated some aspects of your fine interview with a link. A fine film, and thank you to director Avis for his great work on it.

  2. It's physically impossible to hate Drew Barrymore.