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Life as a House (2001, Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas)



Two events shock George (Kevin Kline) from his middle-aged apathy. The first is his sacking by the architects for whom he made models. The second – after he collapses and is rushed to hospital – is a diagnosis of terminal cancer. He begins two life-affirming projects: to destroy his squalid prefab, and take charge of his loner son, Sam (Hayden Christensen). The boy rebels, but is won over after his father’s teenage neighbour Alyssa (Jena Malone) takes an interest in him. Renewing the friendship with his ex-wife (Kristin Scott Thomas), George begins to rebuild his life, and must decide whether to tell his family that his time is running out…

Working on the principle that nothing concentrates the mind like a death sentence, this gentle drama echoes Philip Larkin’s sentiment that ‘Home is so sad, shaped to the comfort of the last to go, as if to win them back.’ But the gloom installed by George’s diagnosis is soon lifted by its consequences. Kline – perfectly cast – is a top-drawer everyman, giving George a hint of Capra without approaching melodrama.

Christensen, who proved the curse of George Lucas by turning into a mannequin when faced with a light saber, shows he is an able and convincing young actor when allowed near more substantial work and like George, the film left a legacy. The wonderful wooden house set was later dismantled, expanded and rebuilt in Brentwood, California, where it became a school library.

production details
USA | 125 minutes | 2001

Director: Irwin Winkler
Writer: Mark Andrus

Kristin Scott Thomas as Robin Kimball
Hayden Christensen as Sam Monroe
Kevin Kline as George Monroe
Jena Malone as Alyssa Beck
Mary Steenburgen as Colleen Beck
Ian Somerhalder as Josh
Scott Bakula as Officer Kurt Walker
Sandra Nelson as Nurse
Sam Robards as David Dokos