Emulating filmmakers like Rob Marshall, Stephen Daldry and Sam Mendes who sprouted from theatre, debuting film director Michael Mayer makes an impressive leap from the boards with A Home at the End of the World. A skillfully wrought, character-driven upscale drama like such predecessors as In the Bedroom (which also shared cast member Sissy Spacek), You Can Count on Me (another Hart Sharp production), Boys Don't Cry (which also united Hart Sharp with Killer Films) and the current The Door in the Floor, Home is yet another art-house entry for discriminating adults that should garner kudos, word-of-mouth momentum and box office. Also in its favor, this coming-of-age tale ranging from 1967 to 1982 boasts superstar Colin Farrell in a role that takes him far from his Irish roots and his macho reputation as a hell-raiser.

In the story screenwriter Michael Cunningham (The Hours) adapted from his novel, Clevelander Bobby is first met as a nine-year-old, then as a teen in a remarkable performance by Erik Smith, who is further blessed by his uncanny resemblance to Farrell. The young Bobby must deal early with mortality when a freak accident takes his beloved older brother and his parents die.

As a teen, Bobby is taken under the wings of Clare and Ned (Spacek and Matt Frewer, having moved very far from his Max Headroom days), parents of his best pal Jonathan (Harris Allan). Bobby forges especially close bonds with the very proper Clare, whom he turns on to grass and Laura Nyro, and with Jonathan, with whom he sexually experiments. But Bobby, unlike gay Jonathan, is essentially straight, a fact made clear when he joins Jonathan (now played by Juilliard-trained film newcomer Dallas Roberts) in the East Village in 1982, as disco and the alternate club scene are fading and AIDS is rising.

Fresh from the Midwest, Bobby (a bewigged Farrell) moves in with Jonathan and his older gal-pal Clare (Robin Wright Penn), an artsy hat designer born to flourish in the sexually ambivalent downtown scene. In a series of events that will resonate with certain New Yorkers of a certain age and lifestyle, Jonathan pursues casual sex with various tricks while Bobby and Clare become a couple. Eventually, Clare will have his baby and the three will form a hippie-like triangle in a cozy house up in Woodstock, where they open a homey restaurant called Home. Of course, such bliss cannot last, even when their baby is adorable. Bobby is slightly conflicted about his true feelings for Jonathan, who, in turn, is vulnerable to jealousy. Clare, meanwhile, seems to be maturing at a faster rate than the other members of her ad-hoc family. And AIDS, another main character of the '80s, makes a subtle and unwelcome appearance.

Home is a work of great care and intelligence, as evidenced by so many things, not least of which is the casting of the two main characters as younger incarnations and the terrific and evocative soundtrack of icons like Nyro, Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, et al. All leads are flat-out terrific and the production, shooting Toronto for Woodstock and the Midwest, is a handsome one.

A Home at the End of the World should mark a beginning for many involved and further proof that talents like Farrell, Cunningham, Spacek and Wright Penn will continue to dazzle.

-Doris Toumarkine