CAST: Colin Farrell, Robin Wright Penn, Dallas Roberts, Sissy Spacek, Matt Frewer, Erik Smith, Harris Allan, Ryan Donowho

DIRECTOR: Michael Mayer

SCREENWRITER: Michael Cunningham

The macho scorn you’d expect to be heaped upon Bobby Morrow and Jonathan Glover, two seventies teenagers living under the same roof and sleeping under the same sheets, is never hinted at in Michael Cunningham’s turbulent yet oddly distant adaptation of his own novel (written before the far more popular “The Hours”). It’s conceivable that their high school classmates in a suburban Cleveland high school simply don’t pick up on the intimacy between Bobby—an insistently sunny kid who likes to get stoned while grooving to The Stones--and Jonathan--a geeky guy who learns to smoke pot from Bobby but gets his biggest highs just hanging out with this gentle rebel. The truth is that a powerful physical and emotional connection had been forged even before Bobby came to live with the Glover family, following the deaths of his idolized, acid-dropping, touchy-feely brother (in a drug-induced walk through a glass door), and his grief-ravaged parents.

Perhaps the sexual bond between Bobby and Jonathan (played with less than potent appeal by Erik Smith and Harris Allan) is their tightly guarded secret. It is nevertheless a secret that Jonathan’s mother, Alice (Sissy Spacek), has shared since the night she opened the door of the car in which the enraptured youths were clinging to one another as close as close can get. Understandably, Alice had trouble sleeping that night. So what did she do? She did what she often did when life got messy and complicated. She went downstairs and began rolling out pie dough. When the equally restless Bobby stumbled into the kitchen and suggested it might be a good idea if he packed up and moved out of the house, Alice hesitated, thought hard, and then asked Bobby if he’d like to learn how to bake a pie.

A surprising response from a mother so recently jolted by the knowledge that her son has been having sex with someone she considers her second son? Not really, because Alice clearly adores Bobby, a pure-hearted romantic who has not only loosened up Jonathan but also taught Alice to smoke pot and dance to cool music when her starchy but decent husband is not around. In this doggedly optimistic soap opera, somebody is constantly being enlightened and uplifted by somebody else. Hardly a scene goes by when we don't hear a mini-sermon about the true meaning of love and death, sex and friendship, drugs and rock. Life, at least in Cleveland, is all about treasuring your companions, and creating a new family when your old family falls apart.

And no one's family values are stronger than little orphan Bobby's. In 1982, at the age of 24, he reluctantly bids farewell to Alice and her husband (who have decided to give Arizona a shot) and to his job as a baker of some of Cleveland's best apple pies (guess where he got that idea). Where does Bobby go? To New York, where he moves in with the sophisticated, openly gay Jonathan (Dallas Roberts), whom he hasn't seen in much too long a time, and Jonathan's openly straight apartment-mate, Clare (Robin Wright Penn). Clare, a post-hippie flake, wears her long red hair straight and her makeup heavy, works in a kitschy hat shop, smokes a lot of dope, and wants to have a baby by Jonathan. That’s not in the cards, however--especially after Clare gets a load of grown-up Bobby, played by Colin Farrell in a coal-black, truly hilarious fright wig. (When Clare finally takes a scissors to that mop, there is an audible sigh of relief in the audience, second only to the sigh of relief when Bobby tearfully but gratefully submits to his first heterosexual romp under the tutelage of the highly experienced Clare.)

Can Bobby and Jonathan and Clare cohabit in joyous, erotically ambiguous contentment? No more than Truffaut’s Jules and Jim and Catherine could, but it takes a long, tediously anguished journey through the East Village, Woodstock and Arizona for the trio to come to that obvious conclusion. And we don’t even want to get started about baby Rebecca who, astonishingly, bears a much stronger resemblance to Jonathan than she does to Bobby.

If Michael Mayer’s directorial debut is disappointingly stilted and contrived, it is certainly not a total loss. There are moments of genuine warmth and even a smidgeon of fun here and there. Best of all, the four lead actors—Sissy Spacek, Robin Wright Penn, newcomer Dallas Roberts and, particularly, Colin Farrell as the seemingly simple, ultimately complex Bobby—perform as if they believed every last word of Michael Cunningham’s unbelievable screenplay. --GUY FLATLEY