Life as a House
When a man learns he may have a short time to live, he decides to build his dream house--with the help of his estranged son. Yes, get the hankies out for this disease-of-the-week flick, almost as sappy as a made-for-TV movie.
George (Kevin Kline) is probably having the worst day of his life. First, he gets fired from the job he's had for 20 years as an architect because he can't keep up with the times. Then, as he is leaving the office, he collapses and winds up in a hospital, where he learns he is very ill. Suddenly, George's priorities change dramatically. He decides it's time to finally build the house of his dreams by tearing down the dilapidated shack he currently lives in, an eyesore that irks his swanky neighbors. But here comes the tricky part--George wants his 16-year-old son, Sam (Hayden Christensen), a troubled teen addicted to drugs, to spend the summer with him and help him. George's ex-wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) thinks it might be a good idea, but Sam rebels against the notion of spending even one second with his father. Regardless, George puts his foot down, and thus begins a long journey in reconnecting with his son, his ex-wife--and himself.
House is chock-full of great performances, which certainly saves the film from wallowing in sentimentality, starting with Kline, who may be recognized for this role come Oscar time. He has a knack for giving heartfelt speeches with hardly any effort whatsoever. It's nice to see him doing something meaningful after a short absence from the movies. Thomas also puts in an understated performance as the ex-wife who really hasn't gotten over George and who also desperately wants to reconnect with her son. Christensen holds his own against his stellar co-stars and has some very nice--and refreshing--moments with actress Jena Malone, who plays the 16-year-old hottie living next door. Malone continues to be an interesting young actress; she's one to keep your eye on. Even Mary Steenburgen (yes, she's in it too), who plays Malone's single mom, gives a nice supporting turn.
In House we are faced with a motion picture that might be better suited for the smaller screen, especially in the way it deals with death and dying. Simple, personal stories can work on the big screen if there are elements of greatness in them (i.e., American Beauty). But director Irwin Winkler is more known for his producing credits, such as Goodfellas, than for his directing, and the sap factor just gets too elevated at times, especially in the scenes between father and son. Sam is pretty messed up at the beginning of the film but manages to get turned around pretty quickly. You want it to happen, because that's what the whole movie hinges on, but the action comes across a tad forced. But despite your better judgement, this film gets to you. It even has moments when you aren't expecting the reaction you get--a true testament to the acting and the screenplay.
If you don't mind watching a somewhat maudlin movie about a bunch of people trying to build a house, then Life as a House is for you.