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LIFE AS A HOUSE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas, Hayden Christensen, Jena Malone, Mary Steenburgen
Director: Irwin Winkler
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.10:1
Studio: New Line Cinema
Features: See Review
Length: 124 Minutes
Release Date: March 26, 2002

“I will hate you so much for the rest of your life.”

“Well you can’t even begin to know how much I hated my dad. Think of it as a family tradition.”

Film ****

Life As a House is by far the most superb and emotional family drama to come in years. In terms of conveying true heartbreaking emotion through performance, the film is right up there with Ordinary People. It’s a remarkable beauty of a film that offers warmth, sadness, and slight doses of humor all at the same time, a perfect mixture most of the time. It tells the tale of a man who seems to have lost just about everything valuable to him in life, and he then vows to rebuild not only himself, but also the world around him in the process.

Kevin Kline, in a performance the Academy sorely overlooked, portrays George Monroe, a veteran architect whose life, at the moment, is not going well at all. He is currently divorced from his ex, Robin (Kristin Scott Thomas), and very much estranged from his rebellious son, Sam (Hayden Chistensen), and now resides in a run-down shack overlooking the ocean. Things don’t exactly get much better, as George is soon fired from the job he’s had for 25 years, and soon after, discovers he has a bad case of cancer to deal with. It’s here where George decides to make a change.

George then demands to Robin that he take Sam for the summer to assist in helping him tear down the shack so that he can begin his longtime dream of building a house in the same area. Sam, of course, hates his father and wants nothing to do with him or the idea of spending the summer with him. With plans to spend the summer with friends of his and engaging in drinking and drugs, Sam is forced ultimately to go along with his father whether he likes it or not. The engagement between the two is at first not very pleasant, as Sam can’t understand his father’s current living conditions. Constantly consuming the drugs he keeps hidden from his father, Sam considers very much running away, until he strikes a unexpected relationship with Alyssa (Jena Malone), the girl from next door who’s the daughter of one of George’s former flames (Mary Steenburgen).

The road to redemption prevails, however, as George and Sam grow to learn more about each other. Robin, not having a terrific marriage to her current husband, finds herself stopping by George’s frequently to check up on their progress, mainly because she’s never seen Sam work at anything before, considering this a big change. Sam, beginning to discover a change in himself, grows closer to Alyssa. And finally, when George reveals the real reason why he wanted Sam to be with him for the summer, it results in a beautifully acted and emotionally heartbreaking moment.

The performances in Life As a House is the film’s primary strength, based on the fact that they’re a hundred percent winning and thoroughly believable. Kline, a longtime accomplished actor, is more than well suited for the role of the down-on-his-luck and ill stricken George. Throughout the movie, Kline makes the transition of his character convincingly through every inch of the story. Hayden Christensen, known already to the masses as the new Anakin Skywalker, delivers a pure star making performance here that will fill any viewer with anticipation about his role in the upcoming Episode II. The film also gets some nice touches of gentleness from Kristin Scott Thomas as George’s ex and Jena Malone, another star on the rise, as Sam’s love interest.

Directed by Irwin Winkler, Life As a House is strong with emotion and alive with beauty and heart lifting storytelling. A truly remarkable family study that will no doubt require usage of a Kleenex box.

Video ****

A pure quality transfer from New Line, who has long been one of the top DVD making studios in my opinion. This anamorphic presentation is presented in a rare ratio of 2.10:1, the director’s choice I suppose, but it still looks of definite DVD quality. The film does have a unique capturing of scenery and atmosphere, and the look that this disc provides enhances this quality to a higher level. No image flaws whatsoever are detected. An all around triumphant transfer in the New Line tradition.

Audio ***

This is a movie made up solely of dialogue, but given what it is, New Line has issued a very impressive 5.1 audio mix to this release. There are even instances of nice pick up from the side channels, which do an impressive job at receiving distinct sounds. Music is heard very nicely as well. All in all, a much serviceable audio track.

Features ***1/2

When they had introduced their Infinifilm series, I thought New Line had done away with their Platinum Series logo…guess I was wrong. While this doesn’t include the lengthy features of an Infinifilm release, there is still plenty to appreciate. Included is a feature length commentary by directed Irwin Winkler, producer Rob Cowan and writer Mark Andrus, 2 nicely done documentaries; “Character Building: Inside Life as House” and “From the Ground Up”, deleted scenes with optional director commentary, a theatrical press kit, and a trailer.

Summary:

Life As a House is as deeply moving as movies can get. It’s uplifting and emotional storytelling at its best, and one of last year’s best films as well. Highly recommended.