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House of D Review

By Shawn McKenzie 04/29/2005

Having never been a fan of FOX’s “The X-Files” or actor David Duchovny’s acting, I was a little leery to see Duchovny’s theatrical writing and directing debut.  With a great cast, fronted by Robin Williams, I figured that House of D would be decent.  I was wrong about that assessment.

Tom Warshaw (Duchovny) is an American artist living in Paris, France.  One day, he arrives six hours late for his son Odell’s (Harold Cartier) thirteenth birthday, and he explains to his French wife Coralie (Magali Amadei) why he is late:  He has a big secret to tell her.  He then he goes into a long story about his childhood.  When Tom (Anton Yelchin) was on the verge of his thirteenth year, he lived in Greenwich Village in New York City during the summer of 1973.  He lived with his mom (Téa Leoni, Duchovny’s wife), who was a single mother because Tom’s father had died.  Tom’s mom dealt with her depression about Tom’s father by smoking cigarettes a lot and taking sedatives (Tom had to count the pills to make sure that she didn’t take too many.)  Tom went to St. Andrew’s School for Boys, which was headed by Reverend Duncan (Frank Langella.)  He liked a rich girl he met from another school named Melissa (Zelda Williams, Robin’s daughter), but almost messes things up with her when he calls her “flat-chested” (she’s 12…what do you expect?)  He worked for a butcher shop owned by Sasha (Bernard Sheredy) and a French woman named Simone (Olga Sosnovska), the latter of which he has a crush on.  His best friend is Pappass (Williams), a “retarded” (his term) 41-year-old man who works for St. Andrew’s as a janitor and helps Tom deliver meat to customers on his delivery bike.  They want to save up to buy a green bike that they have been both been drooling over.  Pappass lives with his father (Mark Margolis), who regularly abuses him emotionally by calling him names.  They count their change underneath Greenwich Village Women’s House of Detention (so they can hide it from Mr. Pappass), where they (sort of) meet an incarcerated prostitute named Lady Bernadette (Erykah Badu), who shouts down to them from her solitary confinement cell and looks at them using a broken mirror shard.  She becomes Tom’s counsel in adult matters, since his mom is a basket case and Pappass is too child-like.  Her pimp, Superfly (Orlando Jones), hangs around as well, waiting for her to get out.  Unfortunately, her advice causes some unintended disasters, including prompting Pappass to do something stupid out of jealousy and Tom’s mom to do something tragic.  Tom’s guilt wracks up so high that he makes some important life decisions not long after turning the age of thirteen.

You would think that Williams’s involvement in this movie would be good enough for me to like it.  Unfortunately, even he isn’t very entertaining here.  He gives a sappy performance along the lines of 1998’s Patch Adams.  I really like it the best when he does dark projects, like 2002’s triple shot of Insomnia, One Hour Photo, and Death to Smoochy (yes…I liked that one as well.)  I like his mainstream comedies as well, as long as they aren’t family-friendly, like 1997’s Flubber.

I can’t give Williams all of the blame.  The fault mainly lies on Duchovny’s shoulders.  As an actor, I think he normally gives the most wooden performances out there (in fact, his best performance might be as himself on several episodes of HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show.”)  As a director, he’s okay, because the film looks fine on the surface.  Writing-wise, it has a few flaws.  First of all, Tom’s “big secret” is pretty lame.  I don’t want to give away the end, but I waited all through the movie to hear the big secret, and when I heard it, I felt let down.  Secondly, their attempts at humor were as about as flat as Melissa’s supposed chest.  Tom warns Pappass that he will be fat if he doesn’t stop drinking pop…so of course when the adult Tom reunites with Pappass later, he is fat (and sporting some of the worst aging makeup I’ve ever seen.)  There are a few more problems with the writing I had, but that would give things away.

The rest of the cast is just okay, working with Duchovny’s bad writing.  People may accuse Leoni of only being in this movie just because she is married to Duchovny, but she is a decent actress.  She is certainly better than Duchovny at least.  They don’t even share any acting scenes together.  Zelda isn’t bad in her first significant acting role.  The acting gene must have passed onto her.  It’s just unfortunate that she had to make her debut in this movie.  Badu’s mostly unseen performance is okay, but I thought that it was a little gratuitous that she sang at one point to teach Tom how to dance.  Who does she think that she is…Ricky Nelson?  (Okay…I’m really dating myself now…and I’m only 30!)

House of D screams “Duchovny vanity project,” much more than Kevin Spacey’s supposed vanity project Beyond the Sea.  The movie will let down any “X-Files” geeks and won’t satisfy even hardcore Williams fans.  I’m hoping for better things from both in the future, and not just the rumored theatrical sequel to “The X-Files.”  In the meantime, maybe both of them should be put in acting solitary confinement.

Ratings System:


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