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'Life as a House'

'Life as a House' is a weepy family drama

Friday, November 02, 2001

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

Hayden Christensen, much-pierced punker son of Kevin Kline, is forced to spend the summer building a house on his estranged dad's oceanfront property. Luckily for the kid, sexy Jena Malone lives next door to prick his interest -- and vice versa.

'Life As A House'

RATING: R for language, sexuality and drug use.

STARRING: Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas, Hayden Christensen.

DIRECTOR: Irwin Winkler

WEB SITE: www.lifeasahouse.com



Can hard work and sex lead to father-son bonding?

It can in "Life As a House," a warm and cuddly melodrama directed by Irwin Winkler.

"I hate you," says Christensen.

"Not as much as I hated my father," replies Kline.

Caught in the middle is Kristin Scott Thomas as their mother and divorced wife, respectively. What she hated was the first and last years of being with Kline, she says -- "the first because I wasn't sure you loved me, the last 'cause I wasn't sure I loved you."

Thomas is long since remarried with two younger children. Kline has long since resigned himself to nothing more ecstatic than Jena or Mary Steenburgen, her oversexed Mrs. Robinson-type mom. But in dragging sonny boy back into his life, he drags himself back into the life of his ex-wife.

The kid has problems galore, of which drugs are not least. "I like how it feels not to feel," he says. "I know the feeling," says Dad, who declares a zero-tolerance drug policy under his watch. When Christensen does a marijuana deal anyway, Kline flushes the stuff down the toilet, and the son has to work on the dad's new dream house to pay for the lost grass.

Kline -- with or without his grizzled, stubbly-beard appearance here -- is one of my faves. Whether jumping off a cliff into the ocean or dancing with Thomas in lovely sunset silhouette, he turns in a nice performance, very much in the Robin Williams vein. Hunky Hayden has multiple shower scenes and a personality change in five easy lessons.

Oh, if only the eradication of adolescent hostility were this easy. ...

Director Winkler is better known as producer Winkler, who -- with Robert Chartoff -- co-made "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" (1969), all five "Rocky" films, "Raging Bull" (1980) and "The Right Stuff" (1983).

Marc Andrus' script contains such charming epigrams as, "Hindsight is like foresight without a future" -- which sounds wise unless you stop to think about it, in which case it strikes you as just dumb.

Oh, well. Never mind the literary criticism. This is what is pejoratively known as a chick flick, in which you suspect that somebody's death is coming by the music and just hope it's not dragged out too much.

"Life As a House" is a sexually liberated, atypical romance, primarily focused on a couple who are neither old or young, beautiful or ugly -- worth 2 1/2 stars but 3 1/2 Kleenexes.

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