Life As A House


Directed by: Irwin Winkler
Written by:Mark Andrus
Starring: Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas, Hayden Christensen, Jena Malone, Mary Steenburgen, Janey Sheridan, Scott Bakula
Released: May 23, 2002
Grade: A-

“Change can be so slow that you don’t know that your life is better or worse until it is.”  George (Kline) been an architect for twenty years.  He has hated every minute of it.  This realisation has come with news that he has terminal cancer and only four months to live.  He lives in an old shack with a magnificent ocean view that was left to him by his late father.  The house is an eyesore in a neighbourhood of prestigious residences.  From the moment he’s owned it, George has intended on tearing it down and “building something to be proud of” but like most things in his life, he’s never gotten around to it.

Another one of George’s great failures in life was his marriage to Robin (Thomas).  They divorced ten years ago and their only son, Sam (Christensen), is a drug addict working as a hustler.  Knowing this is his last chance to make up for years of neglect, George takes Sam for the summer and by building the house together, he hopes to sort out both Sam’s life and his own.

Sam rebels against having to spend his holiday slaving for his father but finds a silver lining with an attractive class mate, Alyssa (Malone), living next door with her mother.  Suddenly, all their lives come back into focus.  George offloads the burden of long kept childhood issues.  Sam confides in his father the difficulties he has faced and the indecision of knowing what he wants out of life.  Robin faces up to troubles with her new husband, Peter (Sheridan) and Alyssa learns much about love and her relationship with her own mother.

Life As A House is an emotional film that whilst not in the same league, deserves the comparison, that advertisements are making, to American Beauty.  These people are all messed up and dysfunctional but hey, isn’t just about everyone?  I would have liked to have seen more attention given to the supporting cast but admittedly, the changing relationships between George, Sam and Robin are the heart of the film.

Kevin Kline is wonderful in the leading role.  It brought back memories of the persona he captured five years ago in Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm.  His first scene in the film could be described as both “eye catching” and “eye turning” depending on the way you want to look at it.   The most outstanding cast member is Hayden Christensen who with darkened hair, eye make-up and a variety of piercings, many will not recognise despite the fact he is the star of the year’s biggest release, Attack Of The Clones.  Critics were quick to notice Christensen who was nominated for both a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award.  He can consider himself unlucky to miss an Oscar nom.

It’s encouraging to see new filmmaking.  On paper, it’s just a simple tale of a father bonding with his son but like most of life’s stories, it’s never that simple.  I like the metaphor of seeing George rebuild both his house and his life simultaneously.  Perhaps then ending is a little too melodramatic in that the pieces of the puzzle fit together too easily.  Still, there’s a nice balance of intelligent comedy and heartwarming drama from screenwriter Mark Andrus (As Good As It Gets).  And make sure you don’t miss the angelic Californian coastal setting.  This house’s life is worth hearing about.  Certainly a pleasant “change”.