Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Film Review | House of D (2004)

I'm a sucker for a good coming of age flick, and what better than the story of a boy finding himself in life but ultimately having to hide within himself.

Written and directed by David Duchovny, House of D tells the somewhat Duchvony reminiscent childhood of Tom Warshaw – or better known as ‘Tommy’ in his youth – in the year 1973, in which Tommy is about to hit the milestone of being a man, the big 13.  

The film opens with an adult Tom (David Duchovny) living in Paris with his wife and son. His son is slowly coming to the point where a boy becomes a man, the age in which the flashback to his childhood focuses around. Tom believes that the opposite happened to him when he was that age. Due to the circumstances surrounding his life at the time, he withdrew into himself rather than facing the momentous rite of passage in the life of a young boy. But now his son has reached that age, he’s beginning to get that same feeling again.

Tommy’s (Anton Yelchin) childhood seems normal at best. He lives a mundane life in a small apartment in Greenwich Village, with his Mother (Tea Leoni) who has become heavily reliant on prescription drugs due to the passing of her husband and Tommy’s father. They both seem to be at a loss without him, but his Mother takes the absence worse. Tommy has his first line of responsibility thrown upon him at this point in time, as he has to take care of her to help her find herself again. Which also means making sure that she’s taking the correct number of pills every day so she doesn’t overdose on him. He hides his feelings about his father extremely well; more so to protect his mother’s feelings. Tommy is extremely mercurial for a twelve-year-old.

Tommy doesn’t have much of anything else, other than his best friend Pappass (Robin Williams), a 40-year old ‘retarded’ janitor who works at the grammar school that Tommy attends. They spend every waking hour together, whether it’s from pretending Pappass is his father to sneak into horror movies or the both working a meat delivery job. They have a unique bond that is destined to be broken by the realization that Tommy will one day surpass Pappass’s capabilities and become something he cannot, a man. Which is, deep down, what their relationship serves the purpose of. Pappass knows that Tommy is going someplace he cannot go. And Pappass knows this and is terrified of it, as he looks out of the signs. Tommy getting interested in things besides their friendship, like his crush on a girl at his school named Melissa (Zelda Williams). Pappass doesn’t want to lose him. And in a way, Tommy doesn’t either. 

Tommy and Pappass stash their money from their meat delivery job at the House of D – The Women’s House of Detention. It’s here where he converses with his confidant, Lady (Erykah Badu) who serves as an adopted mother figure to Tommy. Especially whenever Tommy is pissed or upset. His main intention in visiting there with these feelings being that they money himself and Pappass keep there that gives him hope, but he is also taught somewhat trivial life lessons from Lady. Lessons that he should be being taught by his Mother, of whom is growing further and further away from him and herself.

But once Tommy’s life hits a brick wall in the form of his Mother overdosing, he becomes lost. Therefore he wasn’t able to become a man, this is what stops him. He has to bear witness to his Mother’s deterioration, of which he has been ever since his father died. It’s even more traumatizing for Tommy as he was below his Mother once she did overdose, as he would sleep under her bed to make sure the inevitable wouldn’t happen.

A series of events after this emotionally poignant chapter of Tommy’s stunted transition into adulthood leads him to the streets of Paris, where he eventually becomes an illustrator for a magazine and falls in love with his now wife. Which brings us back to the beginning of the film with a sense of understanding as to why his wife and son feel as though he’s cold towards them as he’s bottled up so much about his past to try and forget about it and move on. The thing is, you can never move on if you don’t let yourself. Which is what he’s done by moving to Paris and never going back to New York to face his demons. He needs closure, he needs to fully be free. He needs to go back to New York.

For a first effort, you can see the passion that Duchovny put into this project. It’s obviously partly based on his life, not the traumatic upbringing but rather the environment as to which Tommy grows up in. Living in New York, working as a meat delivery boy, attending a grammar school. You can feel the sense of familiarity through the lens and script by Duchovny which is comforting, as he knows how to portray a realistic portrayal of life in the city. 

There’s such a sense of realism in this film it’s hard to have a suspension of disbelief. Which is ultimately what I think led to this film having such a negative bout of criticism. Some people go to films to escape, but when you have a film like this you can see your life in it, which isn’t what people want to see. But I think that’s when you know a film is great because you’re able to recognize similarities to your own existence within a film and you form more of an emotional connection to it.

House of D is a generally underrated coming of age film, which in part is mainly due to a number of bad reviews that it got. Just search ‘House of D Review’ and you’ll be bombarded with them. I know everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but this always seems to be the case with both independent and coming of age films when they’re not completely understood. Now that’s not to say it’s great because David Duchvony wrote and directed it. If I’d have watched it not knowing who he was, I would have fallen for the sincerity and poignancy that it holds the same way I did knowing that he had created it.

I highly doubt that Duchovny made this film with the intention and hopes of getting five stars from Roger Ebert. The film feels like a personal adventure and also a love letter to the city he grew up in – New York.

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