Life As A House
The whitest movie of the year, Life As A House occupies prime real estate in an upper-class neighborhood by the sea, enjoys sunsets and crashing waves, reads each successive volume of Chicken Soup For The Soul, and listens to adult-contemporary music on the way to work. Wringing every last drop of sentiment from the slowest and most cinematic of diseases, terminal cancer, director Irwin Winkler (Guilty By Suspicion, The Net) made the film with real feeling, but pumped it full of clichés as if they never existed. Regrettably serious about the title analogy, Winkler and screenwriter Mark Andrus (As Good As It Gets) don't shy away from loaded speeches about the need to tear down rotting barriers and rebuild on a solid foundation. Before he succumbs to tearful bedside reconciliation, Kevin Kline cuts through some of the sap as an architect who's simultaneously fired from his job and informed he has three or four months to live. Estranged from ex-wife Kristin Scott Thomas and son Hayden Christensen, and living alone in a decrepit shack on a cliff facing the water, Kline vows to spend his remaining days building a new house and mending his withered relationship with Christensen. But the kid turns out to be a soccer mom's nightmare come to life, an insolent punk who worships Marilyn Manson, dyes his hair blue, wears makeup, and gets off on aerosol cans and asphyxiation. As the two begin to bond, Kline's old feelings for Thomas are also rekindled, but she's married to Jamey Sheridan, a dull, practical man who folds neat creases in the financial section of the newspaper and is always sipping something on the rocks. Aiming for the scope and emotional sweep of Terms Of Endearment, Winkler broadens the melodrama well beyond the key relationships, and lacks the shrewdness to leave superfluous material on the cutting-room floor. Did he really need a subplot involving Kline's neighbor (Mary Steenburgen) playing Mrs. Robinson to a teenage boy? Isn't it clear enough that Christensen is on the wrong track without having him dabble in male prostitution? When he finally starts coming around, losing the makeup and playfully mussing his step-brothers' hair, it's not only abrupt and unconvincing, but a cruel lesson in indoctrination; soon, he too will fall in line and watch VH1 like everybody else. Since cancer affects everyone at some point or another, Life As A House draws from a bottomless well of salt water, shamelessly drumming up emotions that are easy to come by and hard to examine thoughtfully. Winkler may wet a few tissues, but the "-jerker" part of "tearjerker" is there for a reason.