Life As A House

2001, Movie, R, 124 mins

Review

LIFE AS A HOUSE
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Stars Kevin Kline and Kristin Scott Thomas are fine, but the film is forgettable, sentimental hooey. After 20 years spent designing painstakingly precise architectural models for the same firm, George Monroe (Kevin Kline) is handed a hefty severance package and his walking papers. But that's not the bad news: Moments after he stages a spectacular exit, George collapses outside his office and wakes up in a hospital where he learns that he's sick — so sick his doctors aren't even going to bother with any kind of treatment other than painkillers. Faced with imminent death, George decides that he's going to devote what little time he has left (he figures he's got about three months) to the one thing he's been meaning to do for years: Tear down the old house his father left him — a dilapidated cliff-top pile with a stunning ocean view — and build himself a brand new home with his own hands. And he's going to strong-arm his troubled son, Sam (Hayden Chistensen) — a sullen teenager who's been living with his mother, Robin (Kristin Scott Thomas), and her emotionally remote husband, Peter (Jamey Sheridan), since his parents' divorce ten years earlier — into helping. George sees the project as a way of reconnecting with the boy and offering a little tough-love therapy for a wayward teen whose only interests seem to lie in piercings and pills. George and an understandably miserable Sam move into George's cramped garage, and as the house comes down the inevitable happens: George's shattered family starts rebuilding itself around him, the unhappy Robin included. This is just the sort of metaphor-heavy story that can so easily slide into soppy sentimentality, and director Irwin Winkler does nothing to stop it. He allows Mark Isham's generic score to creep in at the merest hint of an emotional epiphany, and no potential symbol or quotable bit of dialogue is allowed to slip past without later being forced back into service, burdened now with heartwarming resonance. The phrase "Everything happens for a reason" is heard more than once, a risibly simplistic cliché that not only stands as this film's hackneyed theme but also as a surprisingly honest confession as to just how calculated the entire film is. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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