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 House of D
 Critic's Rating
   [B+]
 Date Posted
   23rd May, 2006
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Cast: Anton Yelchin, Téa Leoni, David Duchovny
Director: David Duchovny

"House of D" is the story about a boy called Tommy who becomes a man. It's a simple story that could be your story, my story. For his first directorial effort, David Duchovny (known to many as Spooky Fox Mulder of "The X-Files") eschews the cynical post-modernism of our times to narrate a touching old-fashioned fable about the great beauty and pathos of life. Made with deep earnestness, it is an imperfect but heart-warming film that offers rich insights into the joy and sadness of growing up.

Tom Warshaw: "My story starts where ever man's story starts: with mom."

Yes, "House of D" is a simple story; but it is an original story because it could be your story, my story. If our lives can sometimes appear to be the same – parents, friends, love, death – remember every life is different because our experience of it is different. As we tread the path to adulthood, people we meet and the choices we make all play their even hand in shaping the bittersweet essence of our maturation. "House of D" is inherently powerful because of this truth. For it connects to us at a fundamental personal level – in a film of this genre, to its credit, surprisingly, there's hardly any manipulation  – as people first (and film fans second), how can we not be vulnerable to emotional resonance?

Katherine Warshaw: "Go on. Run away just like your father."
Tommy Warshaw: "He didn't run away, mom. He died."

"House of D" begins with an adult Tommy (played by David Duchovny) who lives in Paris and is about to tell his estranged wife and son (who is about to turn thirteen) his big secret. We then enter the adult Tommy's flashback: New York City, year 1973, a thirteen-year-old Tommy Warshaw (Anton Yelchin) living with his widowed mother (Téa Leoni) who is still distraught over the death of her husband. But Tommy is able to find relief from this harshness in his cheerful friendship with the retarded Pappas (Robin Williams).

Tommy Warshaw: "Just stay cool and give me the dad face."

In Pappas, Tommy is also able to find a stock stand-in for his deceased father. How much longer can this bliss last with Tommy now on the brink of manhood? At age thirteen he is awakening to a world that is no longer child's play; he is also slowly becoming more intrigued by the rapturous nature of sex. Pappas is naturally not equipped to deal with the increasingly complex needs of Tommy's mental and physical transformation. His bereaved mother is of little help: she reminds Tommy that he must not jeopardise his private school scholarship in the foolish pursuit of girls. Tommy loves his mother dearly. And she needs him as a son, but much more as a memory of a love lost (Duchovny courageously adds just hint of repressed incest). Thrust in an awkward, unfair corner of life, Tommy finds a mentor in Lady (Erykah Badu), a prostitute incarcerated in the infamous Greenwich Village Women's House of Detention (the film gets its title from here). Standing under a tower than imprisons her, Tommy is able to seek the advice and counsel of this stranger. A tragedy will soon befall this young boy, and life as he knew it will change forever.

The film has echoes of Francois Truffaut and Louis Malle – comparisons are valid even if it's a minor work compared to their masterpieces: "The 400 Blows" and "Murmur of the Heart," respectively. In what appears as a heartfelt ode to New York City, "House of D" is shot mostly on real location – the city's frenzied pace, messiness and lived-in feel all add invaluable texture to the film's visual fabric. Duchovny demonstrates considerable skill with the camera; there are a few ingeniously designed shots. Made for under US$ 1 million, the film easily has a lot to show for it.

But, alas, "House of D" is flawed. Duchovny has said that he wrote the screenplay "in six days," and I suspect he may have been serious. The third act is painfully saccharine because – excluding Tommy – most character motivations do not feel pragmatic. As the film builds to its optimistic conclusion, we are left a little shortchanged given the initial promise of a better realised end to Tommy's journey. It's a major shift of tone – from realism to fantasy. But we must be forgiving. "House of D" has its heart in the right place. - Adnan Khan

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