1 Faeshicage

Homeless To Harvard Movie Review Essay Free

An ugly movie it is, but Birch's performance alone is worth a view or two. . .(SPOILERS)


Liz Murray (Thora Birch), the daughter of a loving but extremely dysfunctional Bronx family. Weighed down with a coke-addict father and an HIV-infected mother, Liz spends her early years shuttling from squalid apartment to public shelter and back again. Leaving her bitter, angry, and desiring an emotional connection to anyone who would give her the time of day, at 15, she breaks away from her home life (what there is of it) and takes to the streets. Only after the death of her mother does Liz develop the determination to better her lot in life. Virtually begging her way back into high school, she becomes a superb student, and at 19, with funding from a scholarship and a part-time job with the New York Public Interest Group, "born loser" Liz enters Harvard University.While other kids grow up focusing on things such as video games and hanging out at the mall, Liz Murray spent her early years worrying about whether her parents were going out to score drugs late at night and when she'd eat her next meal.

Murray and her family lived in a filthy, impoverished environment. Worse still, Murray's mother was schizophrenic, legally blind and afflicted with AIDS.

After her mother passed away, Murray, then age 15, lived on the streets alone - eating from dumpsters, sleeping on subway cars and depending on her street smarts for survival. Somehow, the naturally bright but uneducated teen found the strength and courage to see beyond the bleakness.

"Homeless to Harvard:The Liz Murray Story" challenges audiences with an unrelieved portrait of self-destruction and the horrific life of one young girl. Made-for-TV movies don't get much grimmer than this.

This challenge is made doubly hard by writer Ronnie Kern and director Peter Levin's decision to supply little in the way of back story or context for the title character's behavior. So this portrait of one young girl going from the streets to Harvard,depressing and shocking under the best of circumstances, may baffle viewers unfamiliar with her case.

Kern chooses to concentrate on a brief period in Liz's life, when the innocent girl was living on the street. During this time, Liz manages to finish high school and gets to Harvard.

Turning the tragic story of Liz Murray into a story between the misfit probably makes sense from a dramatic point of view, but it does distort the cruel life Liz lived virtually from birth. From the story we learn that her father was a coke-addict, her mother was blind and infected with AIDS and how all her subsequent relationships ended in betrayal, making her a predictably paranoid person. Her life leading up to Harvard-- a life marred by awful things, incest, drugs and abandonment -- is barely hinted at in Kern's script.

Her parents represents a last hope for the woman.

(It's worth noting that for all the film's gritty authenticity, these staging are purely speculative.)

Birch gives a gutsy and gritty performance as she uncannily slips into Liz's mannerisms and rhythms of speech. But Liz remains a remote figure.Lynch, in a more reactive role, nevertheless captures the somewhat exploitative element, playing the mother, for all her love of Liz, as one who is in constant need of money and stimulus.

The nerve-jangling music keeps the viewer wary, while Uta Brieswitz's sharp, controlled cinematography heightens the flesh-crawling reality of these sickening events. Yes, the story is an ugly one, but the actresses command our attention and demand we confront this unrepentant to examine her humanity.While I didn't expect too much from this movie despite the fact that I generally like Lifetime movies (except ones that about anorexia/bulimia and teenage pregnancy), I must say I was pleasantly surprised.

Not only was the acting very believable, but the plot was original and had a lot of heart. This movie made me smile, get teary-eyed, and think. I think what makes this movie rise above the average is that it reaches many different people on various levels. It challenges you to think outside the box, to not accept the conformity of society and set your own standards while crossing over the line. It teaches you the importance of family, even 'broken' ones, and letting new people in, to have faith in people, how its important to face your fears, to embrace your individuality and set new standards and most importantly, BELIEVE IN YOURSELF.

Most of the negative comments I read about this movie complain about two things: 1) Thora's character was a bit too soft hearted and 2) It was unbelievable as far as the Harvard aspect.

First, Liz's character couldn't have BEEN more far from any other character she played before, like Jane or Enid. Enid is a sweet, sensitive, albeit insecure, fun- loving, adventure-seeking, rule-breaking girl with something to prove. Similarly, Jane is a bitterly unhappy, confused, intelligent person but Liz is sweet, street smart, worldly, savvy with a chip permanently lodged on her shoulder.

And secondly, while I can't really confirm nor deny Harvard discrepancies not having been in Harvard, I can certainly refute the statement that Liz was way out of line. And furthermore, while I don't condone acts of depression, she DID have it coming-- sometimes, the only way you can reach a person is to go to their level, for while it brings you down a notch at the time, when you rise back up, not only will you be a notch higher, you'll have brought someone up with you.

Anyway, overall, a really good movie--and not just for the teens or adults--for anyone with an open mind. The film "Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story" is one of those movies you tend to forget, unless you view it at least a second time. However, each time you view it, its value becomes more obvious.

The movie has four things going for it. First, Thora Birch does an outstanding, exceptional job in the character of Liz. She is in nearly every scene, and her delivery of lines and expressions are priceless and phenomenal. It's difficult to believe she was only 20, because she has the natural ability to behave rather than to act in a role.

Second, the rest of the cast. Each one contributes to the overall effect led by Kelly Lynch as the blind, AIDS infected but loving mother. Teen angst was rarely shown in such a realistic light. Even though the film stars Birch the center of the film belongs to Lynch. It's a terrific performance and it's not just a one note performance where Lynch plays a tough mother. Her character Jean is a former alcoholic and druggie and even though she has many inner demons of her own she's still a fighter by heart and a mother who's not going to lose her daughter. You can't help but feel her pain as she seems unable to control Liz. It's one of the better performances of the year. The scene when Liz is helping her mother out after she had overdosed made me cry. No, sob. How can those natural signs of affection do anything but made viewers love the character of Liz?

Third, the script and story line. For what undoubtedly began as a typical Lifetime original film for teens turned into a flick for everyone. Many of the lines are over the heads of teens. The editing is super and camera angles are carefully chosen, although for some reason, the camera seems unsteady at times.

Fourth, the soundtrack including music and sound effects is one of the best I've observed. Those responsible should be commented for a superior presentation. Not only is the Harvard/street smart mood and tone consistent, it really makes this movie. I watched the rough editing version, and without the superb sound effects and music, this film would have been just another dismal Lifetime effort. To fully appreciate the soundtrack, you must close your eyes and picture what is going on.

There are so many subtle qualities that you could spend hours discussing the superiority of "Homeless."

For all of inaccurate Harvard "stuff," this is still one heck of a great movie. Not an easy film to watch but one that hits the bullseye with tremendous force.

Incredibly raw, provocative, and symbolic. Beautifully acted and shot with interchangeable smooth film. Peter Levin crosses the line with artistic confidence and isn't afraid to get his hands dirty and convinces his actors to do the same. Take into consideration the fact that it had a quite a tiny budget. Educational for teens and parents (should be watched together). Pay close attention to detail in order to get all you can out of this film. It's a must see if you have any appreciation for unique film making.

I just watched this movie last night. My reaction was I thought it was disturbing to say the least.

I can't say I can relate to the film because I never did or even considered the things that Liz ended up doing. Probably because I had a stable family life and parents who loved me. Also, I'm not poor at all.

I don't know if this movie defines the typical teens today either. It probably all depends on location. Kids in L.A. and other cities may be tempted by the above mentioned things, but it probably doesn't ring true in other places.

Aside from what I thought of the film, I think Thora Birch has bright future ahead if she learns to harness it in film school or something. The camera work made me sick and it was nerve racking. Unrealistic? Kind of. Thought provoking? Maybe.

I originally ignored this film as another airy and gross teenage flick. It definitely is NOT one of those.

Kelly Lynch was magnificent as the under-siege mother, Jean. She really reflected what a lot of parents go through, trying to "let things be" in the hope that they will improve. Thora Birch was excellent and sassy as the conniving Liz. Found the script a little unbelievable at times, but then I probably haven't come across the sort of teens that this film is about.Ronnie Kern has chosen for himself a difficult subject to translate to the screen. `Homeless' attacks Murray from the viewpoint of her life, and quest to preserve her fragile relationship with her mother, Jean. Though based on a true story, `Homeless' is a thoroughly dramatic representation of the facts, and the picture sometimes slips out of Kern's hands and loses its identity in the process.

Now I'm not saying that Birch's performance is the only reason `Homeless' has a chance at some sort of identity. `Homeless' provides Birch a big, meaty T-bone steak to gnaw on in the acting department; gaining a trashy drawl, and basically doing whatever she can get away with to embody Murray in every single aspect. This is an impressive feat. Trust me, you have never seen Birch quite like this before. She is a lightning rod of misery in this film. Birch's performance does get carried away here and there as Murray rages to achieve the manifest destiny she desires.

I cannot say enough good things about this movie. It is what film is all about. This had to be one of the most human stories I have ever seen. Most fares about girls growing up with trashy, druggie parents either paint them out to be pure evil or misunderstood. 'Homeless' showed Liz to be just another person who screwed up. Some feel that this was sympathetic to Liz. It may have been, but I saw it less as a justification of her actions and more as an attempt to see Liz as more than simply a girl growing up in a poor home. Any justification for Liz's actions came more from her own head then from the film. Kelly Lynch gave an amazing performance that truly made Jean, the struggling mother believable. Thora Birch is really the underrated gem of this piece though. As Liz, she perfectly portrayed a young woman trying to be an adult yet unable to make her own decisions. The cinematography was incredible. I was amazed that they were able to hold a scene on pretty much one shot and not become dull. The seeming simplicity is in reality a huge accomplishment. The only real complaint I could have is with the soundtrack which at times betrayed the emotional impact of the scene and made what could have been a powerful moment feel a bit cheesy, and the last shot which just felt contrived. Other than that, this film is for me, a tribute to the craft. I´m a fan of Ms.Birch. I don´t care if some of her films suck, she still is one of my favorite actresses ever. I guess you could say I´m a loyal fan.

HOWEVER, this film is anything but a bad movie. You know how you felt after watching 'Thirteen' or 'Monster'? Well, get ready for that same feeling. 'Harvard' is what a movie should be like. Has tears, disturbing moments, powerful and moving spots and everything in between.

Based on a true story,the way Liz grew up, that was interesting to look at.

`Homeless' will be best known as the dramatic vehicle for Thora Birch. Walking in the skin of the privileged, gorgeous but confused, troubled and flawed Jane in Best Picture Oscar-winning film 'American Beauty', `Homeless' might seem to many as a pathetic bid for credibility. I hope all those in doubt of Birch's talents see this film. A stunning performance of misfortune and resilience, Birch carries `Homeless' away from just another depression trip and brings out the range of emotions in her character. And in the process, she provides the emotional spine for the entire film. She's just wonderful. Using her lovely eyes,Birch conveys Liz's soul searching with just the smallest glance. Though I enjoyed her work in 2000's `Ghost World' and 2001's `The Hole,' this turn in the `Homeless' makes a more vivid impression of an actress who can do much more than smile and flip her hair *cough*Hilary Duff & the Olsen twins*cough*. I do think this flick should have been brought to theaters. If you like this movie, you might also like Monster, Blue Car or Thirteen. Thora Birch and Kelly Lynch were so convincing acting an emotional scene in this movie- they almost left their co-stars in tears too.

Lynch and Birch play mother and daughter in the upcoming film, and I admit it was hard watching the pair in action.

I predict that when you watch the film there are going to be some heartstrings touched


4 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this

A woman who overcame tremendous odds to go from "homeless to Harvard" has turned her life story into an American bestseller.

Liz Murray, 29, rose from some of New York's meanest streets to graduate from the Ivy League and has become an international speaker. But some of her earliest memories are of her parents spending their welfare payments on cocaine and heroin when she and her sister were starving: "We ate ice cubes because it felt like eating. We split a tube of toothpaste between us for dinner."

When she became homeless at 16, as well as stealing food she would shoplift self-help books and study for exams in a friend's hallway. Now Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard, has burst on to the New York Times bestseller list. Hailed as a "white-knuckle account of survival", it is to be published in Britain in January.

Born in the Bronx, Liz watched her parents mainlining coke all day. "Both my parents were hippies. By the time the early 1980s came around and I'd been born, their disco dancing thing had become a drug habit," she recalls.

She talks frequently about how much she loved them and how much they loved her, how they were highly intelligent but rendered hopeless at parenting by their drug dependence and consequent poverty. She remembers her mother stealing her birthday money, selling the television, and even the Thanksgiving turkey a church had given them, to scrape together money to score a hit of coke. Liz would turn up to school lice-ridden and was bullied for being smelly and scruffy and eventually dropped out.

Her mother's mantra was "one day life is going to be better", then she would spend all day throwing up and being nursed by her daughter or slumped in withdrawal, arms tracked with needle marks. When Liz was 15 her mother revealed that she was HIV-positive and had Aids. She died not long after and was buried in a donated wooden box.

When Liz's father failed to pay the rent on their flat and moved to a homeless shelter, Liz was out on the streets. Her sister got a place on a friend's sofa, but Liz slept on the city's 24-hour underground trains or on park benches.

At first she saw herself as a rebel and a victim, but then she had an epiphany. "Like my mother, I was always saying, 'I'll fix my life one day.' It became clear when I saw her die without fulfilling her dreams that my time was now or maybe never," she says.

She had nowhere to live and had not attended school regularly for years, but at 17 pledged to become a "straight A" student and complete her high school education in just two years.

She did a year's work a term and went to night classes. A teacher saw her gumption and mentored her. When he took his top 10 students to Harvard, she stood outside the university and instead of feeling intimidated she admired its architecture – and decided it was within her reach. Then she heard that the New York Times gave scholarships.

She graduated last summer. Oprah Winfrey gave her a chutzpah award and she met Bill Clinton. She has talked at events alongside Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev and the Dalai Lama. She talks to teenagers about resisting the temptations of drugs and gangs. She also urges them not to use childhood hardship as an excuse not to take opportunities.

Her father died in 2006, also of Aids. His saving grace was that he encouraged her to read – and stole books from libraries to give her a love of literature.

She doesn't want her appearance now and her Harvard degree to fool anyone: "I was one of those people on the streets you walk away from."

Leave a Comment


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *