That the World War II-era drama “Ithaca” was directed by actress Meg Ryan may prove the most notable yet least successful thing about this oppressively sentimental journey.
The unctuous script by Erik Jendresen, adapted perhaps too lovingly from William Saroyan’s novel “The Human Comedy” (which first took shape as a screenplay for the 1943 movie) runs a close second in the failure department.
Set in fictional Ithaca, Calif., which Saroyan based on his hometown of Fresno (the new film was shot in Virginia), this gauzy tale follows ultra-earnest 14-year-old telegraph messenger Homer Macauley (Alex Neustaedter) as he quickly comes of age delivering bad news to the mothers of fallen servicemen.
Meanwhile, an equally saintly ensemble of family members — Homer’s widowed mom (Ryan), his reflective soldier brother (Jack Quaid, Ryan’s real-life son), idyllic older sister (Christine Nelson) and impish kid brother (Spencer Howell) — as well as Homer’s kindly, wisdom-spouting telegraph office bosses Tom (Hamish Linklater) and Willie (a fine Sam Shepard), all support and inspire the solemn, bike-pedaling teen. Frequent Ryan collaborator Tom Hanks pops up as the spirit of Homer’s late dad, but needlessly tips the balance with his star power.
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Events are largely episodic, several key moments are, er, telegraphed, and such lines as “Y’know, Ma, you’re just about the most wonderful person anyone could ever know,” could induce sugar shock.
MPAA rating: PG for thematic elements, a war image and smoking.
Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also on VOD