Life as a House

Life as a House uses the not so subtle example of rebuilding a house to represent a man rebuilding his life. The old house is ugly, worn down, dilapidated, falling apart, and an eyesore. As people work on the house, they tear down all the ugliness, give it a new, strong, foundation, and replace it with something beautiful. For anybody unclear of the concept at the beginning of the movie, it is crystal clear at the conclusion. Life as a House is one of those movies designed to turn on the waterworks of the audience. In doing so, it tries too hard by straining too far and trying to bring in too many elements, lessening the strength of the basic story. George (Kevin Kline, Orange County, The Anniversary Party) discovers he has a short amount of time to live. He wants to reconcile with his divorced wife, get to know his rebellious teenage son, and rebuild the house he and his wife used to live in. He wants to set his life straight before he dies.

His son Sam (Hayden Christensen, The Virgin Suicides, Freefall) is in the full throes of teen angst. He listens to heavy metal and gothic music, dresses in black, wears makeup, does drugs, and is pondering selling his body for money. Sam does not listen to George or his mother Robin (Kristin Scott Thomas, Gosford Park, Up at the Villa), and detests the fact that George wants him for the summer. Robin does not believe that George is finally going to rebuild the house, since this has been one of his untouched goals for years. Her husband Peter Jamey Sheridan (The Simian Line, The Amati Girls) is a workaholic who is ignoring her and their kids. George does not tell anybody he has cancer, and sets off trying to bond with his son. Robin thinks he is going through a mid-life crisis, primarily due to the loss of his job. Meanwhile, Coleen (Mary Steenburgen, The Trumpet of the Swan, Wish You Were Dead) and her daughter Alyssa (Jena Malone, Donnie Darko, For Love of the Game) live next door. Both may or may not have a thing for George, and Alyssa is definitely interested in Sam.

There is a predetermined path that director Irwin Winkler (At First Sight, The Net) and screenwriter Mark Andrus (As Good As It Gets, Late for Dinner) must take. Sam, who is bordering on killing his father, must slowly give in and love his father. Sooner or later, everybody needs to realize how important George is in their lives. Robin needs to come to the conclusion that her new marriage isn't working. George's renewal mirrors the progress of construction on the house. Balancing the emotional with the cheesy is where Winkler runs into a problem. In his desire to develop each character, he gives each person their own little substory. Then, each story must come together in the end with the main one in order to make the end more meaningful. It does not work, because Andrus is trying too hard. Stories involving dogs, litigious and/or annoying neighbors, ex-boyfriends, horny housewives, friendly policemen, and male prostitutes prove too distracting. The fact that everything comes together so seamlessly cheapens the core story. It all seems too fake; too glossy.

This should not detract from some of the performances. In particular, Kline does extremely well. His performance is both mental and physical; he loses weight and by the end of the movie looks absolutely horrible. Malone is also intriguing, because it is never quite clear what her actual intentions are. She remains a mystery through most of the movie, especially to Sam. Sheridan, who has nothing to do for most of the movie, gets some depth near the end, otherwise, most everybody else is one-dimensional. Christensen is the actor to watch, since he will be play Anakin Skywalker. Based solely on his performance here, he is nothing special. In fact, his transformation from rebellious teen to loving son is not quite believable. He is swinging too far from one extreme to another. Hopefully the Force will be with him in the future.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
2 hours, 24 minutes, Rated R for language, sexuality, and drug use.

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