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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 28.38%
Average: 20.27%
Pretty Bad: 2.7%
Total Crap: 12.16%

4 reviews, 50 user ratings

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Life as a House
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by EricDSnider

"It should have been manipulative and sappy, but the performances save it."
4 stars

In "Life as a House," a teen-age boy tells his girlfriend he's angry at his father for tricking him into loving him. If her father had done that, he says, "You would hate him for the trick." She replies, "Not if the trick was real."

"Life as a House" tricks us into loving it, but we don't hate it because of it. It's a film that absolutely should not work, but does because of gentle directing and stellar acting, and a general avoidance of the "you WILL cry!" techniques employed by many tearjerkers.

Kevin Kline gives an Oscar-caliber performance as George, a middle-aged architect whose life couldn't be more dysfunctional. His wife, Robin (Kristin Scott Thomas), whom he still loves, left him 10 years ago and lives across town with their Goth-rebellious son Sam (Hayden Christensen). He's just been fired. He lives in a shack by the ocean in California. Oh, and he has terminal cancer.

Before he dies, he wants to establish a bond with his estranged son by tearing down the shack and building a real house in its place. The house becomes a metaphor, of course, and George slowly rebuilds relationships with his son, his ex-wife and other people in his life.

There are several wonderful characters in the film, and some twists in their personalities that may be irrelevant but which add to the picture's overall charm. Mary Steenburgen, lovely as always, plays sexually frustrated housewife Coleen, who dated George years ago and now lives down the street from his shack. Her daughter, Alyssa (Jena Malone), begins a relationship with Sam; Sam dabbles in autoerotic asphyxiation and prostitution, egged on by his friend Josh (Ian Somerhalder), who is a piece of work in his own right.

Comparisons to "American Beauty" are obvious. This film is far more optimistic and less edgy, but has several similar plot elements: the protagonist, estranged from his wife and child, who will be dead before the film's end; a sexually active teen couple; a teen-age girl expressing attraction for her friend's father. There's a likeness in both films' 21-century family angst, too: These are not the same problems the people in "Leave It to Beaver" had. (Or if they did, they didn't discuss them quite so openly.)

I am also interested in the dichotomies of family relationships portrayed here. George says his mother was terrified of his abusive father, but more terrified of life without him. Asked why he didn't kill his father, whom he hated, he says, "I loved him too much." These are universal ideas, where we love those we are biologically attached to, even when there seems to be little reason for that love.

Apart from those few deft touches, Mark Andrus' screenplay is rather trite. It has its fair share of stock dialogue and kitchen-sink-drama situations. Right down the line, everything happens pretty much the way you'd expect it to.

And yet it works. Director Irwin Winkler doesn't force the emotions; he coaxes them gently. George's character, in particular, is droll and self-effacing, and is thankfully not one of those stoic, saintly dying people we see so often in movies. There is a great deal of humor mixed in with the drama, lightening the mood and conveying that oh-so-important feel of a film not taking itself too seriously.

Winkler has compassion for his characters, each of whom is lovable in his or her own way. Hayden Christensen -- whom we will see next year playing Anakin Skywalker -- is a revelation, holding his own against Kline, who is one of our most unfairly overlooked actors. It is a remarkably mediocre screenplay, made remarkably sweet by a light touch and a kindhearted attitude.

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originally posted: 11/10/01 08:01:34
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User Comments

7/20/09 JR Fake. Idiotic. Garbage. Nuff said... 1 stars
6/01/07 ES It's worth the watch 4 stars
3/31/07 alyxandria It's simply amaizing.Hayden looks better then ever and he proved to be arel talent 5 stars
9/14/06 Lori this movie is wicked, fun and touching, Hayden christensen's acting rules in this film 5 stars
2/13/06 KMG the best part is watching Hayden Christenson cum in the shower 4 stars
12/18/05 Tim Spectacular! Critics are nuts! 5 stars
2/02/05 Darryl Fine cast really delivers in this one. Excellent film. 4 stars
12/09/04 Shira Really good, meaningful 5 stars
8/17/04 Jazmin I thought the movie was the BEST! Mary ur the best!!! 5 stars
6/07/04 KMD Wonderful movie! 5 stars
5/11/04 Maria Its an awesome movie its touching i loved it 5 stars
4/30/04 Justine Harty I thought it was a great movie!!! 5 stars
3/26/04 Pinkline Jones Fine acting by Kline - nice quirky but real story 4 stars
9/28/03 Lord Chu Excellent and touching. A bit anticlimatic, but still works. 5 stars
8/12/03 maya leon it so good, i am a huge believer in fate and reason. the storyline and cast were perfect. 5 stars
7/27/03 Kelli great movie, love ya hayden 5 stars
6/20/03 Wendy Carpenter I'm not a fan of tragicomedy, but this is decent + my son liked Mary Steenburgen's pooper. 4 stars
5/21/03 steph This movie was shitty. SHITTY. Avoid it at all costs. 2 stars
3/22/03 Skankin' inThePit awesome movie, i bawl at the end! hayden acted well in this and i like his piercings (hot!) 5 stars
2/01/03 me awesome!!! everyone did a great job!! 5 stars
1/21/03 Hana I've seen it a billion times and every time I love it 5 stars
1/20/03 Kerra Oscar material for sure....good quality and in depth characters 5 stars
1/20/03 Holly Hayden did an awesome job at acting in this movie 5 stars
1/20/03 Melissa I think hayden did an amazing job of acting he should have gotten an oscar movie 5 stars
1/20/03 Bear Hayden in this movie did movie i have ever seen in my life..... 5 stars
1/12/03 Leah nah we should've seen hayden more in the shower instead. 4 stars
1/08/03 tina excellent 5 stars
11/16/02 Big Ted Hayden deserved Oscar nod. More this, less Star Wars. 5 stars
10/12/02 monkey It was a farly decent movie, it would have been better if we got to see Jena in the shower 4 stars
10/10/02 (-(-(--plurthoughts--)-)-) mmm...hayden's all punked out...yummy 5 stars
9/29/02 Peter Sherlock Dery me. American meaningless schmaltz for zombies. 1 stars
9/01/02 Robbie Banfitch decent but flawed, a little too much cliche 4 stars
7/25/02 Cannibus I would love to fuck the ever living shit out of Jena Malone. No accounting for the film. 1 stars
7/11/02 Vitality1 Cried nonstop. So I'm a sap, it's a good movie! 5 stars
6/16/02 steve donaghy one of the greatest movies i have seen, seen it on father day weekend, andi cried and cried 5 stars
6/07/02 TJ Really liked Hayden. Hope his future is full of success! 4 stars
5/22/02 Kelly It was ok,Hayden gives a suprisingly good performance,kline on the other hand,hes no spacey 3 stars
5/20/02 Kristen Hayden was beautiful after he got the hole out of his chin lol 5 stars
5/12/02 dave macdougall made me cry....nuf said 4 stars
3/07/02 Jenny Tullwartz KST should be capable of better; she's been weak link in too many casts, including this one 3 stars
3/03/02 Wendy Carpenter I'm not a fan of tragicomedy, but this is decent + my son liked Mary Steenburgen's pooper. 4 stars
12/08/01 Rahul Abedin Movies dont get anymore meaninful then this 5 stars
11/29/01 Amy The best movie I have seen in 2001...and that's out of about three a week. 5 stars
11/28/01 CoffeeVixen splendid, one everyone can get something out of, performances were awesome! 5 stars
11/26/01 Brenda Very good movie about life, family, and acceptance of death. 4 stars
11/25/01 Suzz kline's butt can be missed as can this exploitative film 3 stars
11/19/01 Greyjack Ham, meet fist. Some good acting, yes, but jeezus, one of the least subtle scripts, EVER. 2 stars
11/14/01 spaceworm We're getting a pretty good young Vader. More Steenbergen in black lace - please! 4 stars
11/12/01 poetchuck Easily a six handkerchief movie 4 stars
11/08/01 tnt very enjoyable 4 stars
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  02-Nov-2001 (R)



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