Retro Review: Life As a House

A pleasant little dramedy that shows us the highs and lows of the journey of life through the eyes of a flawed suburbanite named George. Well there is a little more to it than just that.

Kevin Kline is George Monroe, a heavily flawed father who knows his life hasn’t turned out the way he had dreamt it to be. Working at a job he hates, divorced from the woman he still loves (Kristin Scott Thomas) and alienated from his “only” son (Hayden Christensen), George needs to find a way to reconnect with the people he loves.

One day, George has enough with his architecture job as he finds out he is being let go. George becomes erratic and leaves the firm in a huge outburst. His outburst leads to George passing out and ending up in the hospital.

When George is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he has no choice but to find that reconnection he so desperately wants. He decides that he will tear down his shack of a house and build his son a legacy. He drags his troubled son into his project as he begins to teach everyone around him how to live. When will his loved ones find out George’s secret? Can he find the love inside his son before he expires? Furthermore, how will his gift change the lives of the people around him?

“Life as a House” is one of those enduring treasures that comes up and enchants you from the opening scene. I perish to think that I almost missed seeing this film.

The film is written by Mark Andrus, the same scribe who brought Oscar knocking on the door for Helen Hunt and Jack Nicholson in “As Good As It Gets”. Andrus delivers more flawed and precious characters that really bring realistic credibility to the world around George. It’s the flaws and sins that these characters go through that make them come closer to our every day lives.

This occurrence was felt in the Academy Award winning “American Beauty” but “Life as a House” has more human realism in its characters than what occurred in “Beauty”. We feel a lot with these people and we cry with them. Keeping the comedy going through the tears is what makes this film so brilliant. I don’t remember really shedding any emotion like that in “Beauty”.

Kevin Kline is brilliant as the displaced family patriarch who lives more in the wake of death than during his life. His raw emotion and tenderness is very commendable. We literally watch this man wither away but it’s his keen view on life and attitude that make us laugh.

George Lucas discovered newcomer Hayden Christensen while he co-starred in the Fox Family TV series “Higher Ground”. He played a tormented teen with a shadowy past that end up on ranch for troubled teens in a mountain-wilderness retreat. This well-acted and well conceived series starred Joe Lando of “Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman” as Hayden’s counselor. Christensen brings a lot of that experience to his performance as George’s son in “Life As a House”. Christensen delivers a strong tormented performance much like he did in “Higher Ground”. His fine acting and emotional delivery won him raves on the series and is a perfect match for high caliber acting in “House”. It is no wonder this boy is going to become “Darth Vader” in the next two “Star Wars” prequels.

I also loved the performances of Jena Malone and Mary Steenburgen who star as on-screen mother and daughter. Malone plays her part a lot like Mena Suvari did in “American Beauty” and Steenburgen is the lonely and horny housewife who is harboring a secret. These light roles blend nicely with the high drama that is displayed in some of more serious scenes seen in this film.

“Life as a House” is the reason movies are made. It is one of the best films of the year.

(4.5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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