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4.5 out of 5 stars
Life as a House (New Line Platinum Series)
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104 of 111 people found the following review helpful
on May 12, 2002
Format: DVD
Somebody once said that "life" is what happens when you're not looking. And it's so true. Too often we let the years slip by, and the important things slip right along with them; and it's only when something happens that we start to pay attention, and by then it's too late to do anything about it. The good news, however, is that as long as you're still breathing there's still a chance to make amends, or at least try to. You can try, not to make up for past mistakes (and we've all made them), but to make "today" count, which is what a man at a particular juncture in his life discovers and sets out to do, in "Life As A House," directed by Irwin Winkler, and starring Kevin Kline.
George Monroe (Kline) is an architect, a man who can design anything, with the exception of that which is the most important: His own life. He has a failed marriage-- now divorced for ten years from Robin (Kristin Scott Thomas)-- a failed relationship with his now sixteen-year-old son, Sam (Hayden Christensen), he's getting on in years and he's unhappy, which is driven home by circumstances involving his job and his health that make him abruptly sit up and take notice. His "house," literally and figuratively, in not in order. And he decides to do something about it. He's determined to tear down his old house and rebuild a new one, and he begins by arranging for Sam to come and live with him for the summer. And it will be a summer that will affect, not only George and Sam, but Robin, and a number of others, as well; a summer in which the trivial things of life are put on hold; and for once, the important things are embraced.
Working from a well written and insightful screenplay (by Mark Andrus), Winkler delivers a drama that is thoughtful and poignant (at times, even poetic), wonderfully acted and beautifully filmed by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. Rich in metaphor, it's an engrossing film that works on a number of levels, and will appeal to a wide audience-- many of whom will relate to George and his situation, others who will identify with Sam; and for some, it may hit strikingly too close to home. Whatever your personal situation is, it will fall somewhere within the emotional arc Winkler creates here; and if it doesn't now, it will eventually. Because, as this film so trenchantly points out, "life" happens. And the most important thing is knowing what to do with it-- if not the first time around, then at least before it's too late.
He received an Oscar for his portrayal of Otto in the comedy "A Fish Called Wanda," but Kevin Kline decidedly hits his stride in dramatic roles: As Nathan in "Sophie's Choice," Mack in "Grand Canyon" or Ben in "The Ice Storm," for example; and now here, as George Monroe. Kline brings George believably to life, with a performance that hints at who George was, but most importantly tells us who he is now. With understated subtly, he conveys his inner-most feelings in a way that enables the audience to make that all-important emotional connection with the character. He makes you feel as though you know him; and once you do, and once you meet Robin, it's hard to understand what went wrong between them all those years ago. One can only assume that somewhere along the line youth and a lack of focus took it's toll-- understandable in a world that bombards us daily with endless stimuli. And it's one of the subtle perspectives that makes this film so effective.
Kristin Scott Thomas gives a convincing performance, as well, as Robin, a woman who has moved on with her life, but in whom you can discern a certain dissatisfaction with her current situation. On the surface, her life seems agreeable, but we see through her portrayal that it is still lacking in some regard. She seems happy to some extent, but it's more like the unfulfilled happiness that comes when one has "settled" for something. You get the sense that what she has with her current husband, Peter (Jamey Sheridan), is somehow less than what she had with George, at least at some point or other. Thomas does a good job of indicating the complexities of her character, dipping beneath the surface to make what could have been a one-note character alive and interesting.
One of the real rewards of this film, however, is found in the wonderfully affecting performance of young Hayden Christensen, as Sam. With but a few TV appearances and a handful of unremarkable films to his credit (the exception being a part in Sophia Coppola's "The Virgin Suicides"), Christensen is virtually an unknown, but comes through with some extremely impressive work here. He not only finds, but manages to convey, that turmoil of confusion and need for personal identity that every teenager experiences, and he presents it quite naturally and effectively. There's nothing feigned or pretentious about him; the Sam he delivers comes from somewhere deep down inside, and working from the inside out makes him very real and believable. It's a performance that should jump-start his career, which is about to be catapulted into high gear/high profile status when "Star Wars: Episode 2, Attack of the Clones" hits the screen, in which he plays the role of Anakin Skywalker. And because of the magnitude of that film and all that goes along with it, he will never receive the acclaim he deserves, no matter how good a job he does in it; so it's important that he has this film under his belt, which demonstrates what a truly gifted young actor he really is, a fact that may be overlooked once "Clones" hits (which is what happened to Leonardo DiCaprio after "Titanic"). And Christensen's performance here is a big part of what makes "Life As A House" a winner.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2001
Life as a House is not the most original movie you'll ever see, but for what it is, it's wonderful. George, Kevin Klein's character, is living a miserable life when the movie begins. He is divorced from his ex-wife who he still loves; estranged from his 16 year-old son, who is unhappy and using drugs; and hates his home, a shack on a beautiful cliff in Malibu. Then one day George visits his ex-wife, who asks him to take their son, Sam, for the summer; loses his job; and finds out he has only a few months to live. George decides to tear down the shack, which his dad willed to him and he hates, and build a house he'll be proud to give his son. He tells his ex he'll take Sam for the summer, so that they can help each other, and tells no one of his cancer. The scenery and cinematography in this movie alone make it worth seeing. There are breathtaking scenes from the cliff in Malibu, as well as from the ex-wife's back yard; and that's where most of the movie takes place. The story may not be a new one, but it is beautiful. There are some seemingly unnecessary sub-plots I could've done without, and some of the characters needed more dept or explaining, but the main characters feel like people you've known for years. The movie is a little over 2 hours, but does not drag throughout, a big feat considering it's a drama, and doesn't try to be anything more. This movie won't challenge you, but would be nice for a quite evening out; it needs to be seen on a big screen. I recommend it.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2005
Format: DVD
...I finally decided to watch Life as a House. I loved it! I almost let myself get scared off by other reviewers' mentions of drug abuse, autoerotic hanging scene, pimping out of young boys to homosexuals, etc. Yes, all of the above is in Life. But - it is all necessary to the movie. You are not supposed to love (or even LIKE) the characters as they are introduced in this movie. George, the cancer-striken father, is self-absorbed and insensitive. Sam, his drug-abusing son, is so filled with hate that it causes him to act out in ways that were really difficult for me to watch. The beauty of Life as a House is that you begin to care about the characters because they change and grow. I can't think of anyone in Hollywood better to play such difficult roles than Kevin Kline and Hayden Christensen. It was so hard for me to feel sympathetic to Sam's character because of the choices he made, but Hayden Christensen's performance really brought me around by the end of the film. Instead of coasting by on his good looks like most young actors (Orlando Bloom, anyone?)Christensen always brings such a strength of character to his roles and I really respect him for that. All of the actors in this film really bring so much sincerity and honesty to their roles. I also recommend watching the featurette "Building Character: Inside Life as a House". It really gives you a feel for the movie as the director envisioned it. You also see a side of Kevin Kline, Kristen Scott Thomas, and Hayden Christensen that added so much to my enjoyment of the movie. This could have been such a cliche of a movie with the oft-seen themes of death, life, and reconciliation. But it was handled with such a deft touch by the director, writer, and the actors that it really comes off well. I enjoyed Life as a House very much, will almost certainly watch it again, and thank the other Amazon.com reviewers for both warning me and intriguing me about this great movie.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2001
Life as a house is a brilliant movie. There is never a dull moment. Although it does not have war planes crashing at every second, it still keeps your attention. The story is about a divorced man (Kevin Kline)who has drifted from his family and from his son espcially. His son visits him on certain weekends and doesn't like it too much. Then the dad finds out he is going too die soon so he wants to do the things in his life that he has put off for so long, like rebuilding his beach shack and reconnecting with his lost son, Sam (Hayden Christensen). Hayden Christensen turned in a beautiful performance and he really makes you feel what the character was feeling. Sam is somewhat of a case. Certainly not the kind of kid your parents wanted you hanging around. It will surely be a long time before I forget this film, not only because of the wonderful story line and intense drama, but for the wonderful Oscar deserving performances also. Espcially by newcomer Hayden Christensen(Anakin Skywalker in upcoming Episode 2). He really portrayed his character, Sam, perfectly. He is an outstanding actor; not just for a newcomer. He really gets your attention.
Life As A House is one of the best films I have ever seen. It was certainly a memorable film.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 12, 2004
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
This is such a good movie! Kevin Kline plays a man who has a bad relationship with his wife (the lovely Kristin Scott-Thomas) and his son (Hayden Christensen, pre-Anakin Skywalker). A terminal illness forces him to reevaluate his life and try to make the most of the time he has left. This is an incredibly emotional film that always, always makes me cry. All three of the lead performers should have received Oscar nominations, in my humble opinion.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2003
Format: DVD
I found Life as a House while channel surfing one day. It seemed like a boring movie, by Comcast's short description, but there was really nothing better on so I decided to watch it.
From the second the movie started I was glued to the screen. The movie revolves around a man, divorced from his wife, who only has four more months to live. He decides to use these last precious days to reach out to his son Sam, a drug addict and very troubled teenager. George, Sam's dying father also plans to build the house he has always wanted to build.
George desperately tries with no luck to connect with Sam at first, however after time they realize they have a lot in common, and Sam starts to heal while his father quickly worsens.
Life as a House is a truly tear-jerking movie with an incredible ending that will not disappoint you. It is a must for any teenager to see, along with every parent.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2005
Format: DVD
This film has it all. The acting in it is superb from ALL of the cast. The story is somewhat typical, but brilliantly brought to life. You have known all of these people at one time or other in your life. And the previous reviewers are right. Christensen is one of those talented young thespians who comes along once in a great while. Sadly, George Lucas didn't put very good use to him. So once again, like many other attractive actors, he is likely to be overlooked. Let's hope this kid's career holds out, because if it does, his performances as he grows and matures, are sure to be lighting in a bottle.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2003
Format: DVD
George Monroe (Kevin Kline) has hated his job for the past twenty years and he has hated his life for at least the past ten. When he loses his job and discovers that he has terminal cancer, he decides to use the time he has left to confront the things in his life that have brought him the most pain and disappointment. Kline keeps what is inevitably a tearjerker from being a dark and depressing movie and instead makes it a positive and uplifting experience with a type of somber comedy.
Telling no one of his condition, he sets out to tear down the ramshackle house left to him by his alcoholic father and build a new house fit for the prime location of a cliff overlooking the ocean. He enlists for the summer the aid - or at least the presence - of his rebellious sixteen-year-old son Sam (Hayden Christensen) who, with blue hair and multiple facial piercings, has become an aerosol sniffing punk wishing death on his estranged parents.
Backed by superb supporting actors and actresses like Kristin Scott Thomas, Mary Steenburgen, Scott Bakula and Richard Cummings, Jr, this movie is the daydream of every parent with a rebellious teenager and of estranged ex-husbands still in love with their ex-wives. As the old and diseased life is pulled down symbolically with the house, new bonds are forged and new happiness is found by all those that come together in the project.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
I've yet to see Kevin Klein turn in a bad performance and he carries this one off very nicely. A fundamentally simple story of disaffected people, father and son, who come together to build a house. The script works hard to stay away from hokey sentimentality and succeeds; it's less successful when it tries too hard to be amusing, particularly with the snotty neighbor who's at war with Klein's dog and the silly sidebar of Mary Steenburgen's affair with a young male friend of her daughter's. Hayden Christensen is absolutely wonderful as the pill-taking, pot-smoking, angry and alienated son. Not only is he a beautiful young man, he's also a powerful actor who's completely convincing as Klein's son. Jena Malone has grown up to be a good actress, one who looks real--as if she might actually be the daughter of Klein's next-door neighbor. The usually icy Kristin Scott Thomas is warm and unpredictable as Kevin's former wife.
The film moves into Capra feel-good territory with everyone and his brother coming along to help finish building the house--which is such a wonderful-looking place that people would be lining up to live in it. The early scenes between Klein and Christensen are just terrific and it's a shame that this level of truthful intensity isn't sustained throughout the film. That said, it's an eminently watchable film; well worth the time.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
Yes, I love Kevin Kline. Yes, the cast does a remarkable job with a marvelous script, but it's more than that--this movie has heart. It portrays modern life with its heartbreaking realities of divorce, drugs, sexual abuse, and cancer, but it's what it DOES with these issues that is so remarkable. Redemption is very real here. I loved it so much, I looked up the writer and found he wrote AS GOOD AS IT GETS as well. What a man. I watched this with my teenage daughter and it opened a dialogue between us. That alone is worth the price of the DVD. (Warning: Strong subject matter, you might want to view it first to decide if your teen (if you) are ready for it).
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