Life as a House is a domestic comedy-drama about an architect (Kevin Kline) who's dragged out of a rut when he's diagnosed with terminal cancer. He sets about building his dream home and reconciling with his rebellious teenage son. In the process, his ex-wife falls back in love with him.Life is a House is nicely shot by Vilmos Zsigmond, but goes on too long. The central metaphor isn't exactly startling or revelatory, either. Mark Andrus' screenplay encompasses the dysfunctional neighbours in an attempt at some American Beauty style black comedy (nice to see Mary Steenburgen again). But the plot’s key lessons are laboured and dull.
The film also sacrifices plausibility by making the father and son such polarised characters and then restoring their relationship so quickly. Kline struggles to make his man-coping-with-life-change believable and interesting, but Christensen contributes an admirably shaded performance. Kristin Scott Thomas is radiant as Kline’s ex-wife. The credibility of Life as a House is also dealt a tragic blow by "Ali MacGraw syndrome" - the failure to give realistic details of a fatal illness. Kline contracts "movie cancer" and just fades away, as MacGraw's character did in Love Story.
Although director Irwin Winkler cuts back on the sentimentality, Life as a House is shrill and sanctimonious in its idealising of the perfect, pre-divorce nuclear family. It also condemns any carnal longing outside the norm, such as gay sex or attraction between a teenage boy and older woman. The plot throws in drug use and prostitution for shock value and as fodder for further moralising.The proceedings are partly redeemed by the generally fine performances and good-natured ending.