‘No Place Like Home’ Review: Self-Discovery in Jamaica

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A lively reggae soundtrack and a Jamaican setting: It’s not “The Harder They Come” but Perry Henzell’s long-lost follow-up to it. A review by Glenn Kenny for The New York Times.

No Place Like Home: Redux
Directed by Perry Henzell
Drama

The 1973 Jamaican movie “The Harder They Come” was a hybrid crime drama and musical with an irresistible premise: a singer hits the top of the pop charts at the same time he hits the top of the most-wanted list. Starring the reggae stalwart Jimmy Cliff, the movie was directed by Perry Henzell; Chris Blackwell, whose Island Records was instrumental in introducing reggae to the United States and Britain, was a producer.

After that landmark film, Henzell began work on “No Place Like Home,” which is finally opening this week in New York. He was never able to complete it to his satisfaction, but a cut was shown in festivals before his death in 2006. This version is a new restoration of that cut.

While “The Harder They Come” had a trim and nearly relentless story, this movie’s eschewal of narrative momentum can hardly be understated. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on.

“The Harder They Come” concerned itself almost exclusively with Jamaicans; “No Place Like Home” is concerned with the interactions between Jamaicans and white visitors.

 

A group of New Yorkers are in Jamaica shooting a cheesy shampoo commercial, assisted by an array of islanders. The actress starring in the ad, P.J. (P.J. Soles), leaves the location with little notice. When the producer, Susan (Susan O’Meara), realizes she’s been left high and dry she enlists a driver, Carl (Carl Bradshaw), to help her find P.J. On the road to Kingston, where P.J. had indicated she was heading, they encounter a vibrant culture, one that is enmeshed in poverty. Its most vivid representative in this section is the singer Countryman. (Bradshaw and Countryman later starred in the idiosyncratic 1980s adventure film “Countryman,” also produced by Blackwell.)

That all the film’s characters go by the names of the actors playing them lends the film a kind of quasi-documentary feel. The interlopers from New York are self-involved and conventional despite the mantle of hipness they try to wear. Soles, featured here a few years before her appearances in “Carrie,” “Halloween” and “Rock ’n’ Roll High School” made her a cult favorite, displays a freshness both insolent and winning.

While O’Meara’s character has her eyes opened by her road trip with Carl — during which she also has a fabulous time sleeping with him — Henzell’s movie doesn’t contrive to give her a life-changing epiphany. Instead, it keeps a sharp and cold eye on Carl, whose observations of the New York film crew start to inform his own ambition.

The picture abounds with amazing landscapes and trenchant but quietly articulated commentaries on tourism and Jamaica’s other economies, or lack thereof, in this era. And while the soundtrack isn’t as magnificent as that of “The Harder They Come,” it’s still a lively mix of pop and reggae. One in which Carly Simon bumps up against Toots & the Maytals and everyone gets along just fine.

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