Life as a House
- compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2001 1 Jan
Speaking of great actors, Life as a House gives Kevin Kline, one of the most underrated, underused lead actors in movies, a big showy role as George, an architect struggling with a dysfunctional family, even as he is dying of cancer. The movie also introduces us to Hayden Christensen, playing Kline's prodigal son Sam. (This is significant trivia for Star Wars fans, who can tell you that Christensen looks good as the young adult Anakin Skywalker in the new trailer for Attack of the Clones.)
While the film is being sold as a tearjerker, critics were too busy jotting down complaints to bother with hankies. Most faulted the film for sentimentality, and others for its conflicting signals about right and wrong.
Holly McClure (The Orange County Register) finds "clichés about life, death, relationships, and the importance of the choices we make. Several scenes will tap into the hurt, broken, and bruised areas of many people's lives, and that's why many will relate to it." But, she concludes, the film fails in that it "presents the dysfunctional side in such an unrealistic way—as if it's normal."
The USCC calls it a "contrived drama," and reports that the "few life-affirming moments are sullied by several distasteful episodes, while the rudimentary story about the measure and meaning of a man's worth is emotionally manipulative."
Lisa Rice (Movieguide) frowns at a missed opportunity: "This movie shows a father doing his best to reverse the generational curses of his own life, and impart life to a family long forgotten. The theme is 'life through death,' the message of the Cross in a nutshell. Why mar such a great allegorical story and such poignant universal truths with so many smutty side-scenes?"
Mainstream critics aren't sold on the storytelling either.
Mary Johanson (The Flick Filosopher) writes, "Kline and Christensen give terrific, heartfelt performances. But screenwriter Mark Andrus relies too much on convenient coincidence in his plotting and schizophrenic morality in his message. George letting Sam do whatever he wants is bad for his growth as a human being, but a neighbor mom letting her teenage daughter do whatever she wants—including shower with a male houseguest—is an indication of her maturity. Doesn't work that way."