This simply-crafted indie drama is grounded and well-acted but makes some mistakes that hinder its emotional punch. Even though the performances are solid and the cinematography subtly beautiful, writing decisions in Two Ways Home leave the experience wanting. But it's commendable for its honest presentation of a woman with bipolar type II disorder and an older man suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. It's also refreshing to see a relatively unknown and mostly Iowan cast. There are no famous actors "styling down" to look "rural," "Midwestern," or "middle-American." Sensitively shot, all the drama plays out amidst the muted beauty of Iowan farmland, next to sawmills and grain elevators, and in local bars, public pools, and family barns.
Mostly, the failures in Two Ways Home have to do with plot and writing. In a film that has the blessing of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and that encourages everyone suffering from any mental illness to talk more openly, comfortably, and without social consequence or stigma, the film doesn't actually feature a lot of talk about mental health. There are representations of the noted symptoms of these conditions, but no talk around these scenes or events and/or what causes them. When Kathy's ex-partner discovers her medications and in ignorance reacts poorly, not knowing much about mental health and psychiatric help, Kathy responds, "see, it explains all my episodes and seeking out those highs." But that isn't what most people would do when confronting someone who doesn't know anything about mental health disorders, depression, personality disorders, or the business of psychiatry. But to those who already know about the common symptoms of bipolar type II disorder, Kathy's words make sense. Further, two scenes later, Kathy's ex-partner returns completely understanding of his own ignorance and now seems to "get it." What happened? Did he read something? Talk to an expert? A friend who knows about this kind of thing? How does he 180 so quickly? Also, there are no discussions about grandpa Walter's severe PTSD symptoms and need for help. Magically he's deemed fine by everyone at the end, including Kathy, with no further discussion of his likely still-present need for professional care and help regarding his PTSD. Lastly, some people may disagree with some of the representations of bipolar type II disorder. For example, some scenes may suggest that if Kathy doesn't take her medication, she'll threaten people's lives with guns, become dangerous, and not be able to care for her daughter. While this may be true for some people who have bipolar type II disorder, it certainly isn't true for everyone.