Irwin Winkler


The family in Irwin Winkler's "Life As A House" is the perfectly dysfunctional family. Mom (Kristin Scott Thomas) has been divorced and her son (Hayden Christensen) by her first husband is going through a crisis, as attested to by the fact that he dresses in black, wears makeup, has a pierced chin and listens to Marilyn Manson. Stepdad is emotionally bankrupt and never hugs his two young sons. Dad (Kevin Kline), who is alienated from his son and has issues with his own father, has been working for the last 20 years at a job he hates. They're the 21st century equivalent of 2.3 children and a white picket fence — the modern version of the Cleavers. And as with any "Leave It To Beaver" episode, it only takes a little parental nudging to straighten out the current crisis.

When we first see Sam, we know that by the end of the movie he will have lost the makeup and the silver stud in his chin, and that their disappearance will signal his safe passage through his daily episode of trouble — in this case drugs and a low sense of self esteem. In Tinseltown, conformity is a sign that all is well. Dad decides it's time to settle matters with his son because he's dying of cancer. He also decides to finally build the house he's always wanted to. He forces son to live with him for the summer and puts him to hard work. Mom, who has absolutely nothing better to do with her time, comes by everyday to bring them their lunch and eventually starts helping out with the house.

In no time at all the hard work and parental attention pay off and son soon kicks the makeup and the drug habit — all without the least bit of withdrawal pain, even though he was ready to prostitute himself to support his habit. But as soon as the first crisis is over, the second sets in — son leans that Dad is dying. But no matter, this is Hollywood and by the end of the movie, you just know everyone's going to become well adjusted once again.

When Son first learns Dad is dying, he's angry and says he was tricked into loving him. This movie too is likely to trick a few tears out of its audience but once the tears have been jerked out, there's nothing left but empty emotions.