Life As A House
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
What would you do if you were told you only have three months to live? That is the question asked by main character George Monroe in the movie Life As A House. Ironically, the movie is not about death, but about life.
George Monroe lives in an old run-down house left to him by his father. While the rest of his neighborhood, through care, money, and time, has prospered, George’s life is stagnant. He has worked building models in the same architectural firm for 20 years. He has been divorced for 10 years. His son has turned into something he can’t seem to relate to – a drug addicted delinquent who dreams of new and improved ways to destroy his life daily. But things are about to change for George. The very same day that he is let go from his job, George Monroe is diagnosed with cancer. He is given three months to live and George knows exactly what he wants to do with those three months. He wants to build a house. Not just any house, but one he has dreamed of building all his life.
Seeing the rift that has grown between himself and his son Sam, and fearing the worst for his son’s future, George brings a reluctant Sam home with him to his run-down shack. He decides that Sam will help him build this dream home and somehow, in doing so, things will turn around for the both of them. As the movie progresses, we learn that George is really tearing down the old life he lived and replacing it with the one he always wanted. Once thought of as unfeeling and callous, George has turned into a happy, caring man who wears his heart on his sleeve. As things begin to change for George, things begin to change for everyone he touches.
Kevin Kline is excellent as George, a man who has been lost and suddenly, upon learning of his impending death, is found. Instead of falling into the downward spiral of depression, George embraces the news with newfound hope at finally being the person he always wanted to be. Hayden Christensen does a remarkable job in the role of George’s son Sam, a troubled teenager who has lost all hope in himself and the world around him. The transformation made by his character is equivalent to the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. Christensen handles this transformation incredibly well and is entirely believable in his role. Kristin Scott Thomas does an equally excellent job as the ex-wife who falls in love with this entirely new side of the man she thought she knew. They are joined by a terrific supporting cast in Jena Malone, Mary Steenburgen, Ian Somerhalder, and Jamie Sheridan.
The DVD version of Life As A House includes some very interesting extras. Along with the usual deleted scenes, commentary, and theatrical trailer, viewers are offered the opportunity to review the movie’s Theatrical Press Kit and two documentaries. The Theatrical Press Kit provides the viewer with detailed information about the movie, the actors’ feelings toward the characters they portray, and the director and script writer’s views. Information is also provided about the cast and crew of the movie.
The first of the documentaries, Character Building: Inside Life As A House, is 20 minutes long and features a detailed look at the behind-the-scenes happenings on the set. We learn Kevin Kline and Hayden Christensen’s approach toward portraying their characters and their relationship toward one another. We learn about director Irwin Winkler and his approach toward directing this movie. It was interesting to discover that the actors had a very free rein when it came to portraying their characters. Actors were allowed to improvise on scenes. Director Irwin Winkler thought that some scenes were improved by using this sort of approach, but always made certain that his actors didn’t stray to far from the mark. Also interesting to note is how deeply into the characters some of the actors delved. Kevin Kline took on a very physical role, using power tools, wielding sledge hammers and sanders. He also began to build models of homes and earned a healthy appreciation for the job. Hayden Christensen also was deeply immersed in his role. In one particularly emotional scene, he punched a wall repeatedly, an improvisation that brought pain to the star…on top of bleeding knuckles. Throughout the documentary, it was stressed that the movie was not about dying, but about life. The main character never dwells on his dying and focuses on the life he has left. Certainly, the movie centers about his prognosis and death, but it is more about his growth as a person and the changes made in all of the lives he touched during that time period.
The second documentary, From the Ground Up, is a ten-minute focus on the actual building of the house. It discusses the location selected for the set – a former marine park – and the massive amount of work that went into creating the neighborhood and the house which George tears down and eventually rebuilds. The new home’s foundation was actually built underneath the old home’s structure to save time. The new house was actually built on a different location, then systematically broken down and labeled for rebuilding once it was moved to the filming location. Much of the sections were “rebuilt” by the cast themselves while filming. The new house was put together with craftsmanship in mind and much attention was paid to detail. As a reflection of George’s life changes throughout the movie, the old home was made to look run-down, closed up, and uncared for. The new home was bright and sturdy and very open to reflect his growth at the end of the movie.
The movie, Life As A House contains everything anyone could want in a movie. It’s at once a story of intense romance, redemption, and renovation, not just of a home but of the lives of the people involved in rebuilding that home. You will laugh hysterically at some scenes and sob whole-heartedly at others. Be sure to have tissues handy – watching this movie is like riding an emotional rollercoaster. The DVD version of Life As A House is a definite must have for any movie buff.