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Life as a House (2001)

Seen from a distance, its perfect.

Directed by:

Irwin Winkler

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 125 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Country: United States

How much enjoyment you get out of ‘Life as a House’ possibly depends on how willing you are to put plot-holes, contrivances and frankly ridiculous coincidences to the back of your mind and simply ride along on a wave of sentiment. It is, after all, a nice piece of work with a good cast and some genuinely touching moments – but I can’t help but feel the deep-rooted cynic inside me screaming to get out when I see a film revolving around the speedy first-time construction of a large house by a group of completely unskilled buddies relying purely on their own enthusiasm. If only real life was anything like the movies, we’d none of us ever need to hire a group of builders ever again.

It stars Kevin Kline as George, a down-on-his-luck architect who’s been made redundant and, just to make matters worse, discovers that he only has four months to live. He decides to spend his final days tearing down the shack he lives in and building himself a plush new home – with the at-first reluctant assistance of estranged teenage son Sam (Hayden Christensen).

No sooner has the premise been established than it’s instantly possible to guess how everything’s going to turn out. Goth-boy Sam, at first content to stay at home popping various pills and flicking two fingers up to the world, learns some compassion and forms a bond with his pop just when it’s looking a bit too late. Of course, this was all before Christensen’s ‘Star Wars’ days, but viewed now it’s almost as if his Sam character is Anakin Skywalker in reverse, starting out on the Dark Side before being shown how to behave properly by an older and wiser mentor figure. With that in mind, perhaps Kevin Kline should have got the Obi-Wan part instead of Ewan McGregor – he certainly does a better job of getting his young Paduan learner to snap out of it, and even has an early scene in which he batters the crap out of a series of housing models using what appears to be a prototype lightsaber. Then again, it’s hard to imagine George Lucas writing anything along the lines of: “Come, Anakin – let us go up a hill, live without a proper shower and build ourselves a giant shed.”

Quirky rather than comedic, ‘Life as a House’ is consistently watchable and, despite its distinctly self-indulgent length, is kept moving along fairly well by director Irwin Winkler. Each of the performances are fine as well, not just from Kline and Christensen but also from supporting faces like Kristen Scott Thomas as George’s ex-wife, Mary Steenburgen as the resident desperate housewife, and star-in-the-making Jena Malone as the archetypal girl next door.

But, I really have to ask once again: if an architect came up to you and your pals with his plans for a house and said “okay, I’ve done my part, now go and build the thing”, would you even know where to start? Nope, me neither.

It's Got: Steenburgen in the buff.

It Needs: To let us know what Health & Safety think about all of this amateur construction work.

DVD Extras An audio commentary, two documentaries (‘Character Building’ and ‘From the Ground Up’), five deleted scenes, yawn-worthy cast-and-crew bios, and a trailer.Life As A House (Special Edition) DVD Extras Rating: 6/10

Alternatives:

My Life

Summary

It’s all a bit daft and far-fetched, but the accomplished end product is as safe as houses.

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