- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

"Life as a House" is a sappy, groggy tear-jerker of the lovelorn domesticated variety.
Kevin Kline makes a sincere effort to appear pathetic yet potentially angelic as failed architect and family man George Monroe, discovered living in a seaside shack in a posh community along the Palos Verdes Peninsula of Southern California.
He has inherited the site from a deceased father whose dysfunctional heritage is deplored in later self-pitying episodes. An intended dream house has never replaced the shack, now a neighborhood eyesore. Having alienated his ex-wife, Robin (Kristin Scott Thomas), who has remarried, and a surly teen-age son, Sam (Hayden Christensen), Monroe is going to seed in early middle age with only a mutt to keep him company.
"House" sets up a privileged suburban family group for humiliation and recrimination, then contorts itself in the other direction to rationalize mawkish reconciliations. An introductory tone of contempt is overwhelmed by wholesale forgiveness, without adequate justification for either extreme.
In the early episodes, Monroe loses his job with an architectural firm. He passes out, provoking a hospital visit that alerts us to a terminal diagnosis: cancer. Monroe confides that he has just a few months to live. He vows to spend them building the dream house he has neglected to construct. While doing so, he patches up things with his ex and offspring and rallies a slew of grateful helpers.
When introduced, Mr. Christensen's teen whiner Sam is a goth fright. Clad in black and disfigured by a pout, multiple earrings, a stud between lower lip and chin and a streak of aquamarine coloring in his raven thatch, Mr. Christensen does not manage to untangle an appealing personality from the bunch of brambles that is Sam.
The filmmakers seem to mistake Robin for a treasure, but she appears a coldhearted menace. Robin's estrangement from her current husband (Jamey Sheridan) suggests boredom laced with inconstancy. What Miss Scott Thomas intuits is a taciturn shrew.
A sex-starved neighbor named Colleen (Mary Steenburgen), a knuckleheaded divorcee, invites every young man who comes to the door to use her shower. While accepting this invitation, Sam is cornered by Colleen's daughter Alyssa (Jena Malone). Colleen herself reserves Josh (Ian Somerhalder), a discarded boyfriend of Alyssa's, for her own use. This disgraceful behavior is exploited as an excuse for Alyssa to scorn her mother. Finally, it's brushed aside to accommodate a ludicrous reunion between mother and child.
What a relief. Now they can double date without hostility.

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