Less quirkiness would build a better `House'


April 29, 2005|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

House of D, actor David Duchovny's debut as a writer-director, is too precious by at least half.

It's a film filled with quirky characters -- a mentally challenged janitor, a prisoner who tosses jewels of wisdom out the window of her second-story cell, a priest who emphasizes his Bible teachings by forming his fingers into quotation marks, a French teacher who doesn't realize her students are goading her into unintentionally saying naughty words -- in service to a story that isn't nearly as insightful or poignant as it thinks.

All this, and its plausibility hinges on whether a woman -- even a French woman -- can be married to her husband for at least 13 years and not know where he was born or grew up.

Perhaps you see the problems here.

Told in flashback by Duchovny's character, Tom Warshaw, who is living in Paris and using the occasion of his son's 13th birthday to let him in on what promises to be a big, big secret, House of D is the story of his life as a young man growing up in New York. His father is dead, his mother (Tea Leoni, Duchovny's real-life wife) pops too many pills, his best friend (Robin Williams) is the middle-aged, mentally challenged son of an emotionally abusive father.

OK, young Tommy (Anton Yelchin) has problems. But Duchovny, in his job as writer and director, errs in a major way by failing to make him -- or anyone else in the film, for that matter -- seem like anything other than a caricature.

All the characters are writ in broad strokes, making it impossible to sympathize with, much less relate to, anyone.

This is especially true of Williams' character; can we call a halt to the practice of using mental retardation as an excuse for showing the "charm" of having a child's spirit and innocence captured in a man's body? At the least, can we prohibit Williams, with his perennially manic persona, from playing them?

Only Erykah Badu, as the wise prison inmate young Tommy comes to depend on without ever seeing, and young Zelda Williams (Robin Williams' 15-year-old daughter) as the girl Tommy starts falling for (the only real relationship the film offers), leave much of an impression.

The rest of House of D tries too hard to be profound, when it should settle for simply being genuine.

House of D

Starring Anton Yelchin, Robin Williams, Tea Leoni, David Duchovny

Written and directed by David Duchovny

Released by Lions Gate

Rated PG-13 (sexual and drug references, language)

Time 97 minutes

Sun Score *1/2 (1 star & 1 half star)

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