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LAist Watches: House of D

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We made plans to see House of D with a reminder to our Duchovny-devoted movie-going companion that we were a really good friend for doing so. After all, two scathing reviews of this David Duchovny cinematic "triple threat" had left a bitter taste in our mouth, but also a strange and unfamilliar urge to actually go see the movie, if only to find out how bad it actually was. It couldn't be that bad, could it? It wasn't going to be Gigli or anything, right? The House of D has a lot going for it: Robin Williams in a sympathetic but not over-the-top comic role, a great soundtrack, and a brave and ambitious storyline with potential. And it wants to deliver, it tries to deliver...and sometimes it does.

Duchovny's feature directorial and authorial debut is, unfortunately, blighted by the self-consciousness of a first-time director who doesn't seem to quite trust himself. The first third of the film is weighed down by an unecessary voice-over narration by Duchovny (who bookends the story playing the protagoinist, Tom Warshaw, in the present-day) delivered in an exceptionally flat and wooden tone. When the flashback settles in and we're taken back to New York's Greenwich Village, 1973, and introduced to the supposedly monumental life of Tom at "almost 13" the voice over doesn't go away, and its heavy-handedness left us wondering if Duchovny missed the key lecture in film-making called "It's always better to show and not tell." Mrs. Duchovny, aka Tea Leoni, takes a turn as Tom's troubled mother, showing us that she is adequately capable of playing just about the same kind of manic mother in every movie she's in. Could Duchovny not think of anyone else to play the role, or could he not lure someone else into his murky film? But he did manage to land Robin Williams, who plays the retarded (their words, not ours) school janitor and best pal to teen angst Tom. Nepotism wins again, as, wouldn't you know it, Tom's teen love interest, Melissa, is played by Williams' daughter Zelda, who is rather enchanting in the role.

It seems Duchovny has taken a lot of guff for the film, chiefly in its over-sentimentality, and also for Williams' portrayal of the hapless janitor. So much guff, it seems, that Duchovny's own blog is crammed with self-righteous indignation and moral highground about having made the film for the public and not himself of the critics. David honey, let's have a word--we gotta tell you, the theatre wasn't exactly full, and, well, perhaps you doth protest too much, methinks. (But, hey, David, we do want to talk to you, if only to point out the blunder you made when you told that story about us on Letterman a few years ago.) Regardless, Williams is sweet and understated in the role, and, like all the actors, Duchovny included, somewhat limited by the script's limitations. The plot centers on Tom and his challenging relationships with those closest to him, and his unlikely bond with a woman (Erykah Badu) who is in solitary confinement at the Women's House of Detention, with whom he shares several pivotol sidewalk-to-window shouting conversations. It's contrived and far-fetched, and asks us, the audience, to suspend our disbelief in that gray area between legitimate possibility and overreaching invention; sometimes we can go along for the ride, and sometimes, well...we can't. Despite the flaws, it turns out House of D isn't as godawful as it's been made out to be. Genius? No. Lifechanging? Certainly not. But a decent bit of entertainment to help us pass a free afternoon? Yes. Duchovny's got a lot to learn, but we're willing to give him a sophomore chance.