Patient: Life as a House
Profile: Terminally ill movie about a dying Orange County man who attempts to repair all the damage he's caused in his life by drafting those he has hurt into a home-building project—it's a metaphor, you see, as well as a family-therapy technique used to varying effect by the Khmer Rouge. Think Field of Dreams meets My Mother the Car meets Ikiru meets One Flew Over the Irvine Company. Symptoms: There's a lot of anger in this movie, and not just from the rubes who paid $8.50 to see it. There are angry ex-wives, angry sons and their angry dying fathers. We're not exactly sure why they're angry or even sure that they are all that angry—the rage comes out as irritation, as if some incorrigible scamp had short-sheeted their bed. But we know everyone is angry because they keep saying they are: the son at his prick father who is angry at his prick father, and the son's half-brothers who can't stand their prick father. Yes, yes, we get it: fathers are pricks. We all read Long Day's Journey Into Night in high school. What we aren't shown—or even told—is why everyone is pissed-off or why, for no apparent reason, everyone just starts getting along. With very little evident pain or character flaws, the see-it-coming-from-a-mile redemption at film's end lacks any real payoff. I mean, just because a man is dying doesn't mean he's suddenly redeemed. Just look at Dick Cheney. Diagnosis: My! Life is a dog! Prescription: Kurosawa's Ikiru is a great movie about a little man who, learning he is dying, resolves to build a kids' park. The endeavor is doomed by small minds and bureaucratic red tape—doomed, in short, by life. It's very sad, yet genuinely life-affirming, as it confirms what we all know: life is a losing proposition in which people are defined by what they choose to struggle for. Life boldly argues that a man's wasted life can be redeemed in the last few weeks if he has enough Vicodin and a Home Depot credit card. So here's what you do. First, please show us why this guy's life was so horrible that he now has to embark on this act of penance through carpentry. Second, it would be much more powerful—and realistic—if the house didn't get built before the guy dies. Have it tied up with building-code violations, mismeasured windows and petty neighbors who care only about their panoramic view—this is Orange County, for chrissakes! Finally, a little less of that everybody-pitch-in British pluck and a little more reality. The father should maintain his prickishness and wrestle with the demons that possessed him while he wasn't dying. Have them struggle together with no resolution because there is no resolution possible between fathers and sons. I mean, we all read Long Day's Journey Into Night in high school.
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