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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "The House of D" (2006)

I walked out of The House of D with a severely bruised forehead. Often when I’m watching a bad movie, I will smack my forehead in disbelief when the movie hits a new low. I usually do it figuratively, but since I had the theater to myself for this film, I did it openly, frequently and more aggressively each time. I think after a while I just wanted to knock myself unconscious. Had I lived in the same world this movie does, it probably could have happened. But it didn’t. This movie and I were stuck with each other and it mercilessly beat the holy crap out of me.

The first blow to the forehead came when David Duchovny, the film’s writer, director and co-star, began narrating. Duchovny hasn’t taken any uppers since his days on “The X Files” and I kept expecting him to end every narrative passage with “I’m sleepy.” His character lives in France and for his son’s thirteenth birthday, he will tell him about his life when he turned thirteen many, many years ago. Cue the 90 minute flashback where we find Tommy (Duchovny as an adult, Anton Yelchin in the flashback) living with his chain smoking, pill popping mother (Tea Leoni) and working as a delivery boy for a local butcher.

Tommy works with another delivery boy, a grown, mentally challenged man named Pappas (Robin Williams), whom Tommy dubs Pappass as a joke. They’re best friends and go on deliveries together. During the day, Tommy attends a Catholic school where Papas also works as a janitor. The school features the most thick-headed teacher (Frank Langella) who doesn’t notice the sound of kids ripping pages out of their books, crumbling them up and throwing them out the window. Where do the pages go? To the basement, of course, where Papass catches them and collects them for use in a flash-forward later in the movie (but you knew that, right?).

Moving on. Tommy is thirteen and his dad has died, but Tommy and his mom seem like best friends. Naturally, Tommy also has an interest in a girl at school named Melissa (Zelda Williams). He denies his interest around his friends by saying, “Nah, I don’t like her. She’s flat.” Word gets around school that he said this, he’s humiliated by it and figures that’s the end of that. In any other universe, it would be, but in this movie, the girl still wants to have something to do with this kid and they hit it off beautifully at the school dance, much to the dismay of Papass, who reacts with jealousy at Tommy’s newfound interest.

Okay, so that’s “The House of D.” No, wait! I almost forgot. Tommy has another friend in the neighborhood, that of a female prisoner living in a detention center named Lady (Erykah Badu). The two have never met face to face, but she can see him through a piece of a cracked mirror that she holds out of her window to see what’s happening on the streets below. Tommy and Lady have long, personal conversations that the whole neighborhood can hear. Of course, even though they’re three stories away from one another, they can talk at normal volume. And of course, since she’s in solitary confinement, she has the soul and wisdom of a Buddhist monk.

The movie confines itself in a world of sappy endings, trite fortune cookie wisdom and more penis/boner/erection/balls jokes than “jackass: the movie.” In fact, the movie uses a mispronunciation of “happiness” as a bookend that links the past to the present and does so for sentimentality. Are we supposed to get choked up towards the end at the sound of the words “penis” and “boner”? Believe it or not, yes. In fact, the movie desperately wants us to tear up at every sound of every syllable of every word in every second of its last half hour. Instead, you’ll be too busy trying to figure out why Duchovny’s son, born and raised in France, has an American accent.

That’s only one of several hundred thousand mis-steps Duchovny takes with this directorial effort (he did direct a couple episodes of “X-Files”). As a writer, Duchovny needs to work on motivation for characters’ actions (Why would this kid pull the plug?). He also needs to write believable characters and try to make the things they say sound believable instead of making the mistake that a lot of writers make by having his characters talk the way he thinks people should talk. There exists a difference between stylized dialogue and trite, hackneyed dialogue.

As a director, he needs to lay off the soundtrack for at least three minutes and let the scenes speak for themselves. He needs to realize that just because the actor playing Tommy accidentally sheds a teardrop onto the camera lens, it is not cool to leave it in the film. It simply adds to the cloyness factor already at peak level thanks to Robin Williams. Duchovny also needs to learn the difference between a nuanced, tearful declaration (a good take from an actor) and a laugh inducing whaaa-whaaa (a bad take) so that the performances don’t remind one of Sylvester the cat declaring his weakness for Tweetie Birds at the self help clinic (“I’m weak! I’m weak!”).

But I guess that’s just Duchovny’s style. I realize I’m the one to blame for my bruised forehead. I bought my ticket. I knew what I was getting into. I should have seen it coming. All of it. The wacky extras in the French neighborhood where Tommy lives, all of whom came from the set of a quirky foreign film from Miramax; the prisoner teaching Tommy how to dance with a street pole; Tommy solemnly proclaiming to his flat-chested girlfriend that he “has small balls.” I should have seen it all coming. After all, this all came from the mind of a man who proudly declares himself a huge fan of Celine Dion.


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