Life As A House (2001)

IRWIN WINKLER

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBB.  USA, 2001.  .  Screenplay by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  Golden Globe Awards 2001National Board of Review Awards 2001Online Film Critics Awards 2001.  Toronto International Film Festival 2001.  

Respectable ensemble drama centering around a dying man (Kevin Kline) who decides to finally tear down his dilapidated house after twenty years and rebuild it in his own image. The project ends up bringing him closer with family members whom he was afraid he had lost for good: his estranged ex-wife (Kristin Scott Thomas), now trapped in a loveless marriage with a successful businessman () and his substance-abusing son () who now has nothing but bitterness towards his father and everyone else in his life. Neighbours Mary Steenburgen and  also join in to help with both the building project and the relationship problems, and thanks to these and more welcome and talented faces the film is easy to get through. Pedestrian direction by Irwin Winkler unfortunately kills the normal moments that could possibly be magical, and overcheeses the more tender scenes (Kline with the nurse in an early hospital scene in the film is a real dog, as is the stupid finale) that could be more meaningful.  At best it is reminiscent of American Beauty meeting The Ice Storm with a little Marvin’s Room thrown in, at worst it’s Terms Of Endearment meets Pay It Forward in the lowest possible way. Such comparisons are also a result of the fact that you never can quite forget that you’ve seen this all before. Christensen’s performance is weak, convincing us that he’s more in need of a reason to stop being a shrieking brat than to stop abusing his body, but the magic that Scott Thomas brings to every film she’s in is at full throttle here.

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