'House': The 'D' is For Drippy

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 29, 2005

If you like sweet films about reconciliation, first-time feature filmmaker David Duchovny's coming-of-age tale has enough reconciliation to power a couple of indies. In fact, its cup -- no, make that its bucket -- runneth over. As for sweetness, plenty of that sloshes about as well in this heartfelt but sloppy story of one fateful year in the life of Tommy Warshaw (Anton Yelchin), a Greenwich Village boy on the cusp of adolescence. And it's not the unforced kind either, but the overly arch and ultimately cloying variety.

Duchovny also acts in and narrates the film, which is structured as a flashback to 1973, the year Duchovny's character, a mildly troubled artist now living in Paris with his own preteen son, turned 13. Unfortunately, despite some affinity as a writer and director for life's poetic moments, the actor doesn't know when to stop milking a scene -- or a metaphor, character or relationship -- for quirky poignancy, as with the friendship between Tommy and Pappass (Robin Williams), a mentally challenged man whose character feels like an only slightly toned down version of the one played by Cuba Gooding Jr. in "Radio." Williams's goofy mugging, which is actually sedate compared with what he's capable of, is more than a little embarrassing, as are scenes in which Tommy tries to get his uncomprehending French teacher (Claire Lautier) to say things that sound dirty in English, or when Tommy's mother (Tea Leoni) freaks out after finding dirty pictures in her son's pocket.

Though there are some nice touches, such as the abortive romance between Tommy and a girl named Melissa (Zelda Williams), much about the movie -- including the film's central metaphor, the titular House of D (or Women's House of Detention) that holds the mysterious convict (Erykah Badu) who catalyzes Tommy's coming-of-age and ultimate emotional blockage -- is pushed a little too far. A little more literary than lifelike, "House of D" is a story that feels too pat, and too perfect, for its own good.

House of D (PG-13, 97 minutes) -- Contains sexual and drug references, mature thematic elements and some crude language . In English and some French with subtitles. Area theaters.

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