Life as a House
by Hope Villanueva
Two words: Kevin Kline.
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Thanks to the artistry of several very talentedperformers, what had the potential to be an overly sugarcoated film metamorphosed into a delicate and moving story.
Life As A House follows the story of George (Kevin Kline), an eccentric architect who shuns the use of technology in favor of building beautifully detailed models for his clients by hand. Unfortunately, not everything in his life is as beautifully crafted. He is divorced from his wife, Robin (Kristen Scott Thomas), and they constantly struggle with their emotionally aloof teenage son, Sam (Hayden Christensen). Those lovely home models finally lose him his job, and after an emotional tantrum leaving the office, he collapses. To top it all off, it turns out that his faint was caused by an advanced cancer that is sure to kill him. As a last-ditch attempt to piece his existence into some semblance of a life, he decided to rebuild his rundown shack into the home he always wanted—and he forces his son to help him do it.
Bear with the melodrama for a few more sentences, please. The movie is about far more than just this.
On the surface, the plot appears formulaic. And yes, to a degree, it is. Man trying to get his dying wish. The script does not give much beyond that. Writer Mark Anrdus, of As Good As It Gets acclaim, really has not provided anything unique in his script to chew on. His script is more than salvaged, however, by breathtaking footage and brilliant casting.
Director Irwin Winkler has a background in garnering star power for his films. Most of his work is actually as a producer, having notably been responsible for producing the entire series of Rocky movies. He does have directing experience, though. He most recently directed The Net, with Sandra Bullock and At First Sight, with Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino. He is also the producing power behind the upcoming film, The Shipping News, which will star Kevin Spacey and Julianne Moore. Winkler keeps the pace of the story moving along, intermingling still, intense father-son scenes with expansive camera sweeps over the ocean-side house and contemporary music. He has a nice feel for emotionality and movement on screen and he managed to stay away from the sucking chasm of melodrama that could have been this movie’s pitfall.
But the stars of the film are truly the stars, and should be given credit as such. Kevin Kline, Hayden Christensen and Kristen Scott Thomas are the heart and soul of the movie and alone make it worth your eight dollars. Thomas, as George’s wife, Robin, has a challenging balance to achieve in her portrayal, as she deals with an emotionally unattached new husband, a terminally ill ex and the teenager from Hell. While not her greatest performance, she manages each realistically and effectively. Christensen is a fresh new face, coming onto the scene with something most young actors presently do not have: talent. He’s edgy and angry (as a unruly high schooler should be), playing his role as Sam to a tee. In case you haven’t already heard, Christensen has already shot his part in the next Star Wars movie as the now-older Anakin Skywalker. Perhaps there is hope for salvaging the prequels after all, as Life As A House definitely shows his ability to “go to the Dark Side.” But the real gem is Kevin Kline. A consistently under-appreciated actor with a strong body of work under his belt, Kline sets the entire story into motion. He was written many lines that could have been cheesy and predictable and turned them just enough to make them positively heart-wrenching. His acting was simply gorgeous. Supporting performances by Jena Malone and Mary Steenburgen, both normally delightful additions to the cast, only took up camera time that could have been better spent on further development of the main characters. This isn’t to discredit their own acting, though, which was solid.
All told, Life As A House is about asking yourself, “If I were to die tomorrow, what would I have regretted not doing?” George wanted to build his house and a relationship with his son. What would you do?
Hope Villanueva lives in Los Angeles. When she isn’t juggling fourth graders, she works in various positions in the theatrical community, all while trying to find shortcuts to downtown L.A.
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