Tuesday, July 12, 2011

House Of D

The crazy new alien adventures of Fox Mulder.

It was one of the those hot, summer nights when I just had to kick it back a little. Who knew stumbling upon House Of D would fulfill that desire to plunk down with a cold drink and experience something with a science fiction tie through David Duchovny. Duchovny wrote and directed House Of D [2004]. It was his directorial debut.

My recent foray into Chris Carter's The X-Files, splintered out of a deep investigation of Millennium, which splintered out of a thorough look at the work of Lance Henriksen. All of this led me to Duchovny's House Of D. Funny how these separation things work.

Most of us have a tendency and desire to explore the catalogues of our favorite actors, actresses and directors even if rolling the dice ends in the proverbial thud. While this may not be dark and complex, or cerebral enough for some cinephiles, there are some splendid performances in this simple story. Here's a nice turn by our man David Duchovny.

House Of D was just raked over the coals by critics. The small film cost just two million and still didn't turn a profit in theatres. Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel called it a "sweet but inept coming-of-age tale." Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wishes the Robin Williams character "would die a horrid death." Yes, a bit strong. Charles Cassidy of Common Sense Media called the film an "Off-putting drama" set in the 1970s. For me, the film made an embraceable connection. Some critics called it the house of "dull," others gave it a house of "C." Many knocked it, but didn't entirely discount its likability. That's fair. This is a decent film that deserved a little better reception. It's not perfect, but it is an enjoyable run down the memory lane of some interesting characters.

God love him, a common sight in my father's toilet in the 1970s - Sorry I had to share that with you. Honestly I never thought I would see House Of D. This is just one of those films that went quietly into the night. I went against conventional wisdom on this as I do from time to time and picked it up. It was dirt cheap on Amazon. House Of D tells the story of Tommy, Duchovny's character, told in flashback, as a youngster in New York in 1973 played by Anton Yelchin [Star Trek, Terminator Salvation]. Tommy is friends with Pappas, a mentally-challenged man delivered through Robin Williams.

It was a pleasure to see Duchovny's work unfold. While it may be imperfect, the performances from a restrained Williams to the especially precocious Anton Yelchin were particularly noteworthy and engaging. Erykah Badu's performance is electrifying too. I knew people like this. We had neighbors like Pappas.

One neighborhood man, Stevie, was essentially "retarded," as depicted and in the film, and is now more properly determined as intellectually-disabled. Well, Stevie loved the FBI. He had FBI hats and fake badges. We even had a community clubhouse and we would throw parties and dances there for ourselves as young teenagers. They were always called FBI parties in honor of Stevie. The kids treated him as Tommy treats Pappas in House Of D.

We knew another man known simply as Frisbee Guy. He wasn't communicative. He generally walked around with his Frisbee looking for someone to play with. If you caught his eye, he'd stare at you blankly until you caved in and played Frisbee. But, boy, the guy could throw a Frisbee. Forget about it. You were doomed.

With House Of D there were moments it was difficult to keep a dry eye. Be sure to have a box of cotton whites. Here's a little of what you can expect from the combination of Yelchin and Williams.

Is this coming-of-age tale fantastical at times taking its liberties to mix fact [the geographically biographical] and fiction [the story]? Sure, but isn't that what movies do? That's the magic of movies. I particularly enjoyed this sincere film circa 1973 New York City. It was easy to relate to a period that seemed like another lifetime now, a time when the word "retard" was commonplace, if not truly acceptable. But the politically incorrect elements of the 1970s shines through the material that is brought to life here as recreated from David Duchovny's memory of his native New York. "We had six period cars," declared David Duchovny in a documentary on the making of his picture. It wasn't easy to create the allusion of 1973 because "for some reason people don't wanna act like they're in 1973 who we're not paying." The sense of place is very much a character that houses its population of wonderful characters.

It's an underrated, sweet, moving, emotional, funny pleasure of a film. Yes, it was crushed by critics, but with no expectations and a simple story, House Of D really was a minor discovery. It certainly had all of the trappings of a film that was deeply personal and affecting to David Duchovny and for that I applaud him. As directorial debuts go House Of D was an unexpected treat and Yelchin really steals the show. It's a big, lovely coming-of-age journey on a wee budget. I'm always a sucker for a good one, of which House Of D never fails to delight.


le0pard13 said...

I've heard of this film, and about the critical shellacking it took. Good to hear that there is something here worth taking in. I've always found David Duchovny a very interesting actor. Thanks for the look at this one, SFF.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Truly L13, did David Duchovny offend someone in Hollywood?

The performances are uniformly fine.

This does not deserve the bad wrap it received.

It was destroyed and seems to follow the pattern of just about any film Robin Williams appears in of late.


wILL said...

Got to agree with all y'all about my boy DD. Great actor. . .a truly fine comedic actor with excellent timing (he single handedly salvaged Evolution).

His dramatic range is a bit limited though he has improved dramatically especially in very intense moments in Californication.

I will say that he is reaching a bit with this film. He is demanding us to feel more then he is actually making us feel but the movie is not BAD by any means.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...


I may be overly generous I don't know.

I was in the right frame of mind for this film when I saw it, but I stand by its positive qualities.

I'm glad you are there with me on Duchovny and to some degree on House Of D [perfect- could be House of Duchovny or Detention].