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Life As A House (2001)
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Review Date: October 20, 2001
Director: Irwin Winkler
Writer: Mark Andrus
Producers: Irwin Winkler, Rob Cowan
Actors:
Kevin Kline as George Monroe
Hayden Christensen as Sam
Kristen Scott Thomas as Robin Kimball
Plot:
A man gets fired from his job and finds out that he's got little time to live on the same day (cancer). He decides to take the opportunity of his last few months on Earth, to tear down an old shack that he's been living in for years, and build a new one in its place. He also wants his goth son to help him along, a son who would rather smoke dope and listen to Marilyn Manson than anything else. Needless to say, lotsa tension ensues.
Critique:
Aaaaaw shit, it's Oscar season again! Oops, I mean...whoopee, it's Oscar season again!! Well, whether or not you dig on Oscar flicks, that time of year has swung around once more, and it's time to pack up the tissues, brush up on your British speak and history, and drink lotsa caffeine, because the more "refined" films are about to come slamming into your local theatre houses. Hehehe. One of this year's early favorites for some awards, according to me at least, has got to be this picture, which has got AMERICAN BEAUTY written all over it. A middle-aged man in crisis. A family in disarray. Messed up neighbors. Lotsa videotape. An inevitable ending, some teen/adult smooching and even Scott Bakula? Everything but the gay undertones...hmmm, then again! But that's not to take anything away from this film because it's got its own qualities defined as well. First of all, it deals with one's past. Your past, your father's past, your mother's past, how their lives affected yours, and how you affected your kids, and so on and so forth. It takes the example of this one man, who is dying of cancer and makes of it a film about redemption, a film about regrets, a film about love and all that serious stuff. Yes, this is a very serious movie, but it's not a boring one, by any means.

The actors are all very real here, the characters rich and developed, and the situations all easily identifiable to our own lives. You ever had issues of love with your own papa? Watch this movie! The basic idea behind the film has been seen before in various incarnations (the past of one man leads to the present of his own son in the future...repeating the same mistakes as your father, etc...), but everything about this film invites you to pay closer attention. See how everyone around the dying begin to get affected by his change in behavior. Notice how his son starts to better understand his own anxieties, when discovering more about his dad. The film plays well, it touches your heart, it'll make you cry (if you care about the characters that is...which I did), it even slaps a couple of goofier sexual subplots in there for kicks and levity. Granted, some may swat this puppy aside as yet another entry into the Oscar "sappy" hall of fame, but I dug it much, and especially appreciated its performances, starting atop with Kevin Kline, who is now officially a contender for Best Actor of the year (a heartfelt story, a man dying...c'mon!). Kline really comes through here as a man attempting to close the wounds of his own past (break that house down!), while making sure that his son doesn't follow in his footsteps and leads a better, stronger life (put up that new house!). A pretty obvious metaphor. The rest of the cast is also very strong, especially the future Anakin Skywalker, Hayden Christiansen himself. I also loved Mary Steenburgen, if only for that shot of her in the black lingerie (lookin' good, lady!), as well as Jena Malone and Kristen Scott Thomas.

The film might've been trimmed by a few minutes, especially on a couple of dinky subplots, but on the whole, I was pretty much into it, with stunning cinematography and a beautiful location right in front of the ocean tuned right to my eyes. In the end, this movie talks about life, the truth, love, your past and the few months before all of our ultimate deaths. What would you do before you die? Would you try to repair all of your wrongs? Would you not give a shit and go out with a bang? Seek comfort with your family? Everyone's journey would obviously be a different and personal one, but the one presented in this film touches a lot of cracks present in all of our lives, and for that, I believe it to be a poignant motion picture. Damn man, who knew that watching a movie about people building a house would be so powerful!? Good stuff.
(c) 2016 Berge Garabedian
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