Film Review: Drawing Home

Markus Rupprecht’s lackluster biopic is earnest and well-intentioned, albeit often at the expense of more dramatic needs.
Specialty Releases

Markus Rupprecht’s biopic about landscape painters Peter (Juan Riedinger) and Catharine Robb Whyte (Julie Lynn Mortensen) begins with an obligatory prologue establishing Catherine’s early and abiding love of landscape drawing. And it ends with the requisite postscript update that accompanies photos of the actual couple. In between, the film plays like a curiously monotonous greatest-hits compilation, ticking off major events in the lives of both artists with all the gravitas of a Hallmark Channel movie. The real culprit here is Rupprecht and Donna Logan’s paint-by-numbers script, which prefers to telegraph emotion via voiceover narration, rather than through anything as mundane as dramatic reenactment.

There’s something fundamentally intriguing in the notion that Catherine’s tony Bostonian background, with an indulgent father (Peter Strauss) and a disapproving mother (Kate Mulgrew), is the exact mirror opposite of Peter’s humble home life in Canada. But Drawing Home fails to develop this theme of parental role reversal in any meaningful way. Then again, Peter’s family gets scant screen time compared to the more glamorous Robbs, apart from the matter of his ritual adoption by the local Stoney First Nation tribe. Even this detail, meant to convey the Whyte clan’s spiritual connection to the rugged landscape, does little more than provide some questionable comic relief when Mrs. Robb comes to confront Catharine about her life with Peter in Banff.

Drawing Home’s pervasive aura of listlessness isn’t helped by the fact that the most potentially dramatic incidents, like Catherine ending her relationship with heir John D. Rockefeller III (Jeff Gladstone), take place entirely off-screen. What’s more, the voiceover narration is often accompanied by unhelpfully on-the-nose imagery: Catherine gushes about Peter being by her side (in a life partner sort of way) while the film shows them walking along together—in exaggerated slow motion to boot. Nor does the script convincingly convey its artistic bona fides, which lean toward platitudinous pronouncements like this nugget from a Fine Arts class lecture: “Art isn’t about following rules and regulations, it’s about inventing them.”

While it’s always great to see veteran actors like Mulgrew and Strauss turn up in specialty releases like this one, Rupprecht and Logan’s script admittedly doesn’t give them a whole lot to work with. Strauss, in particular, beams benevolently at his daughter in a few scenes, then suffers a fatal heart attack off-screen. The big-name supporting cast are there for little more than cameos: Rutger Hauer is encouragement personified as Peter’s mentor Carl Rungius, while Wallace Shawn’s attenuated walk-on as an art collector visiting Rungius’ rural “Paint Box” studio does nothing more than provide Peter with his first sale.

You can tick the boxes of the tired biopic tropes Drawing Home unabashedly indulges: There’s the tastefully chaste sex scene by the fireside. There’s the audio montage of “artistic statements” culled from earlier in the film that’s meant to provide encouragement for Peter when he’s informed he has cataracts. There’s even a flashback near the end of the film, just after Peter passes away (another incident the film elides entirely), showing a young Peter quite literally “drawing home”—and then admitting as much out loud, as though this dialogic reinforcement were necessary.

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