Movie Review


House of D

Production Company: Lions Gate Films
Director: David Duchovny
Principals: Robin Williams, David Duchovny, Anton Yelchin, Erykah Badu, Téa Leoni
Rating: PG-13 (some language and crude humor)

By Gregg Tubbs

(UMCom) -- How do we define those pivotal moments in our lives? Can we recognize the life-changing events that will determine who we will become, and what we will make of ourselves? House of D, looks back at a life and portrays the events that lead up to just such a fork in the road. It does it through the eyes of an adolescent boy, and focuses on the age thirteen, a time when he is not yet a man, but feels the things of childhood slipping away. It’s a time of laughter, tears, desire and most of all, changes.

David Duchovny as Tom Warshaw in House of D. Copyright © 2005 Lions Gate Films
The film’s writer and director, David Duchovny (X-Files), plays the adult Tommy Warshaw in this literal "coming of age" story—focusing specifically on turning thirteen. Tommy describes thirteen as the time when, "like a safe cracker, you can hear all the tumblers fall into place, and the vault of life opens to reveal all its riches." The problem is, when he was about to turn thirteen—the early threshold of adulthood—something tragic and unexpected happened, and he could "no longer hear the tumblers."

Tommy, an American artist living in Paris, has been living an interrupted life, stalled by the specter of his own adolescent tragedy. Before he can help his own son begin to enter manhood, Tommy must share his story, and come to terms with—and even make peace with—his own arrested development. He begins to tell his story, with the memorable line, "My story starts where every man’s story starts—with mom."

Flashing back to 1973 Greenwich Village, Duchovny perfectly captures the era, with its stickball games, neighborhood stores, and in particular, Tommy’s own boys-only parochial school. Although nostalgic about the time, there’s no sentimentality about Tommy’s boyhood. Tommy (now played by the excellent Anton Yelchin) has had it rough. His father has died and his mother (Téa Leoni) is using tranquilizers to dull the ache in her heart. They both struggle to fill the hole, alternately clinging to each other and pulling away. Their tension is fueled by a complex mix of factors: a shared sense of loss, Tommy’s burgeoning independence, mom’s pills and the daily challenges of a single-parent household.

Anton Yelchin (young Tom Warshaw) and Robin Williams (Pappass) in House of D. Copyright © 2005 Lions Gate Films
As wounded and mercurial as their relationship may be, Tommy and his mom share an immense love. Tommy sleeps under his mother’s bed every night, once the pills have knocked her out. He is dependant on her, but in a touching role-reversal, watches over her, only able to rest when he can hear her breathing in the bed above.

While Tommy has no father, he does have an older brother of sorts, Pappas, a mentally handicapped neighborhood man who shares a delivery job with him, as well as all the joys, games and secrets of childhood friendship. Robin Williams, who once played Peter Pan, a boy who wouldn’t grow up, here plays Pappas, a man who will never be able to grow up. In a way, Pappas is the symbol of Tommy’s entire unresolved childhood—all the things he’s fond of and the things he is maturing away from. Pappas cannot comprehend Tommy’s growing interest in girls, who have begun to compete for his attention. When jealously pushes Pappas to commit an attention-getting crime, the wheels are set in motion for the life-altering events that will end in tragedy and force Tommy to run away.

Erykah Badu as Lady Bernadette in House of D. Copyright © 2005 Lions Gate Films
Unexpectedly, Tommy strikes up a friendship with a woman in the local house of detention—or "house of d." The woman, who he calls "lady", counsels him from a tower in the old jail, but they never see each other face-to-face. Posters for this film say "You never know who your angel’s gonna be." It’s clear that "lady" is meant to symbolize just such an angel—one of the people who unexpectedly befriends us, mentors us or defends us just when we need it the most.

Years later, Tommy realizes that he must return to his old neighborhood, find the people of his past and achieve some kind of closure with the unfinished business of his old life. In this way, the film finds its deepest theme—reconciliation. Like the proverbial Prodigal Son, Tommy must reconcile with those he has left, those he disappointed and those he loved. House of D isn’t perfect, as many critics have pointed out, but in the end, this bittersweet fable of love, forgiveness and lost childhood won me over. It just might win you over too.

Gregg Tubbs is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Md.

This review was developed by, the official online ministry of The United Methodist Church.

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