Life as a House (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski), Mick Locke,  and Tuna

Kevin Kline plays a man who is fired from his job after 20 years. He also finds that he is dying of cancer.

Do I need to keep writing? The scriptwriter forgot to make him also unjustly imprisoned for child abuse.

OK, he decides to use his remaining time to bond with his son. His son has every part of his body pierced, has a bad attitude, wears make-up, takes drugs, commits crimes, and has sex with men when he needs a few bucks. Not only that, but his hair is so oily and slick that he makes Jerry Lewis look like the poster boy for The Dry Look. Other kids have direct T-1 lines into the local internet pipeline. This kid has a direct line into the Alaska pipeline.

How will Kline bond with his son? Well, the kid was planning to spend a delightful summer in a resort with his friends. Instead, dad is going to force him to build a house from scratch while they live together in squalor in uncooled rooms with open toilets. How could any kid resist?

I guess Kline is able to build a new house at this point because:

1) He is incredibly comfortable financially, since he's lost his menial job and is living in a shack.

2) He's bursting with energy, since he's in the final stages of cancer and taking enough pain medication to sedate a blue whale.

Even more melodramatic is the fact that the kid comes right around. After about three days of complaining, he removes his cock rings and his nipple piercings, scrubs off his Maybelline, gets his hair drained by the specialists down at Jiffy Lube, and re-emerges as Anakin Skywalker. Years of bad attitude are erased almost immediately by the cathartic house-building process.

But the script isn't finished with us yet. About thirty or forty seconds have passed without a crisis, so the kid therefore has to find out that his father is dying, and that he, soon to be the next of kin, hasn't been informed. That prompts this exchange:

kid: So all this was about you? You selfish fuck. You did all this just to make me like you?

dad: No, I did it to make you love me

kid: Yeah, well congratulations, because you fucking pulled it off. (walks off in huff)

I was really missing the organ chord and the commercial break after the last line.

Then we have some more great characters to provide additional crises. Remember the crotchety old guy who was always trying to shut down the Hooterville Cannonball, for no apparent reason? Well, they have a crotchety neighbor who wants the house construction to stop for no apparent reason, and that guy is swamping them with building inspections and code violations and legal notices. He got his comeuppance, but I was a little disappointed that he didn't wear an eyepatch, and he didn't even turn out to be Kevin Kline's evil twin.


The exposure is from Mary Steenburgen, who shows buns and a hint of breast after her daughter nearly catches her in bed with the daughter's boyfriend

As if this wasn't enough melodrama for one movie, we also have the following:

  • The kid is falling in love with the girl next door.
  • But that girl is the steady girlfriend of the kid's criminal boyfriend.
  • But the criminal kid, although high school age, is also boffing his girlfriend's horny mom!!
  • And the girlfriend also seems to be sort of making a minor move on - Kevin Kline!
  • And Kevin Kline used to date - the horny mom!
  • And the curmudgeonly Hooterville Cannonball guy was one of the kid's "pay for sex" customers

Now do you want to know something really weird? I haven't made up one thing yet. All of those things are really in the script. Luckily, I have plenty of lies and exaggerations in reserve.

As far as I know, this is the only script ever written by pulling all of the weekly plot threads out of Soap Opera Digest. Not from one soap, but from all of them.

Needless to say, the house construction binds together not only the father and son, but the entire neighborhood, nay, the world. Husbands and wives reconcile after years of hate and pick up their hammers. The criminal kid dedicates his life to continuing Jimmy Carter's "Habitats" work, so he can just keep building houses and reliving the experience again and again. Dogs and squirrels, lions and lambs, lie comfortably together, pausing only to bring nails to their human friends. Mossad and PLO members work side-by-side to get the house built in Kline's honor. Bluebirds dance gaily about their heads as everyone sings cheerily together. Oh, wait a minute. Maybe I had "Song of the South" playing on the other computer.

Did I mention that they top it all off with Kevin Kline and his ex-wife doing the ol' "looking through the family movies" trick, and saying "we were so happy then", and remembering themselves together with little Anakin before he discovered his Ozzy Osbourne make-up.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Commentary by director Irwin Winkler

  • Two original documentaries

  • Deleted scenes

  • DVD ROM: Script-to-screen

  • Widescreen anamorphic format, 2.35:1

Here's your quiz. I hope you were paying attention.

At the very beginning of the film, when the kid is still in his goth phase and is contemplating suicide by jumping off the seaside cliffs, Kline comes along and says that jump isn't suicidal, then makes the leap to prove his point. The kid thinks Kline is a dangerous lunatic. This is also the same place where a very important family moment occurred in the water beneath. At the very ending of the film, after Kline buys the farm, which of the following occurs?

1. the kid says, "well, that shit is finished", puts his make-up back on, and attends a rave.

2. the kid goes to the seaside cliffs and makes the symbolic leap in his dad's honor, accompanied by swelling music.

I would tell you what they did with the completed house, but if I did, you wouldn't even believe me. You'd swear it had to be one of my blatant lies.

Mick Locke

"Life as a House" reviewed by Mick Locke

"Life as a House" is a feel-good flick suitable for adults and mature teens. Interweaving the lives of two and a half families, the film explores parenthood, drug abuse, love, estrangement, reconciliation, sex, and death.

One and a half families are linked by Sam, the whiny Goth son of divorced parents George and Robin. Robin has remarried to wealthy but neglectful Peter, and borne him two young sons. Next door to George (and to the titular house-to-be) live a divorced mother, Coleen, and her perky teen daughter, Alyssa. Rounding out the cast is Josh, a smarmy pimping teen friend of druggie Sam and succulent Alyssa.

The actor playing Sam the whiny Goth is Hayden Christensen, who also enacts whiny Anakin Skywalker in "Attack of the Clones." My wife is eager for him to go over to the dark side of the Force so he’ll drop a few octaves and quit whining. In this film, he eventually comes to the light side by kicking inhalants, pills, pot, male prostitution, and resentments via a Hollywood-quick transformation. We’re not witness to his moonlighting, but it seems to be hinted that rather than lease out his ewe to be rammed, he lets out his lollypop to be licked. This will echo back comically, late in the film, when he recognizes as a former client the neighboring grumpus who wants to halt construction due to the house’s marginally excessive height. Obliquely, Sam reminds him of an earlier tryst ("Say, don’t you drive a Lexus?") and dissuades the grouch in the audience of a local cop by saying (double-edged), "After all, we’re really just talking about six inches." Sam’s transformation from his nocturnal dark side is mainly caused by his showering with the nubile girl next door (Alyssa, shown only from the shoulders up, alas).  These showers and some innocent kisses bring Sam's six inches to attention, and even ejaculation. (Alyssa, giggling:  "Yuck!  You're scrubbing down the shower.")

Ex-wife Robin (Kristin Scott Thomas), increasingly estranged from her current cold-fish husband Peter, is drawn to George’s attempts at nurturing their son and building the house. She joins in the endeavor, pausing on occasion to reminisce over how things were, are, might have been. Rekindled romance is not in the cards because George physically deteriorates and - first to Robin, then to Sam - breaks the news of his impending death.

Mary Steenburgen provides a comic vignette when her high-and-dry middle-aged character Coleen, one lonely evening, has an impulsive liaison with her daughter’s school chum, studly young Josh (Ian Somerhalden). In the role of Coleen, Steenburgen is ideally cast for two radiant reasons. First, she’s terrific at portraying the quick-switch modes from angry nag to passionate lover to sham innocent to guilty penitent. And second, though pushing fifty, she looks gorgeous naked.

All the actors comport themselves admirably. Kevin Kline is humorous, contemplative, and expressive without being glib. Kristin Scott Thomas is warm, rueful, thoroughly convincing. As Alyssa, young Jena Malone can somehow tease without seeming slutty or manipulative. There’s a scene in which, already Sam’s sweetheart, she romps onto his napping father’s bed to beg an experimental kiss. George, on a stout dose of painkillers, seems groggy and bemused, too numb to relish the taste of her tongue. She then briefly cuddles next to him, says thanks, and scampers off. She’s not a vixen but rather a puppy, too innocently playful to be censured.

Ultimately, the new house gets built, Robin comforts George on his deathbed, Sam cleans up and hooks up with Alyssa, Josh vacates Coleen’s bed and breaks his leg, neglectful Peter reflects and improves as a dad and husband.

And an epilogue. George had mentioned that his own abusive, drunken father caused a car crash fatal to himself, George’s mother, and the woman he head-oned, leaving that woman’s young daughter orphaned and crippled, some quarter century prior to all this. So when ex-druggie Sam inherits this unique cliff-top ocean-view southern Californian house (worth perhaps five million bucks), does he sell it off and snort the proceeds? Heck, no, the Force is bigtime with him and his throbbing Super-Ego. He hands it over gratis to the paraplegic orphan gal whom he finds in a trailer park where her yearly rent probably falls short of quarterly property tax on the dream house. Sam better not relapse into old habits. It’ll take a lot of lollypop lickin’ to pay off his inheritance tax. Six inches? Rather, miles to go before he sleeps!

Three stars out of five.

Nudity: Quick full-length views of Mary Steenburgen from the side and back: lean, leggy, and curvaceous. Also, a lusciously lingering full-length study of her modeling underwear before a mirror.

Tuna's Thoughts

Life as a House (2001) is a weepy character based comedy/drama about a dying man. Kevin Kline is fired from his job building models at an architectural firm, and is diagnosed with terminal cancer the same day. He decides to build a house, involving his son, who lives with his ex, to try and turn the kid around, and earn his love. The kid is anti-social, has been using every drug imaginable since he was 12, and turns gay tricks when he needs spare change.

Due to the therapeutic aspects of building a house together, the kid turns around, Kline's ex falls in love with him again, and everybody in the movie becomes a better person.

I give it a C. Those who like weepy dying man movies will be on familiar ground here.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two stars. BBC 1/5, Ebert 2.5/4, 3/5,  Berardinelli 3/4.

The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: a loser at the box, but may break even with additional revenues. Budget $18 million, domestic gross $15 million. (The studio gets 50% of the gross.)
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C-. (Tuna says C) It's everything that people have come to hate about Hollywood  - shameless and artificial emotional manipulation. And it's good at it! I guess it's OK as a weeper, if that's your thing. It surely isn't mine. It is slickly done, completely professional in every technical way. The production values are excellent, the photography is sparkling, and the performers do a great job at making the material seem nearly credible. But it's a great waste of talent. There isn't one real moment in the entire film, although Kevin Kline and Anakin Skywalker do it so believably that I did buy in occasionally.

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