Life as a House

Director:Irwin Winkler
Writer:Mark Andrus
New Line Cinema; R; 110 minutes
Cast:Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas, Hayden Christensen

Life as a House can't help but garner comparisons to American Beauty: both films center around well-to-do white guys going through a mid-life crisis while carefully plotted romances unfold. Kevin Kline's George is a divorced husband, shabby father, and failed architect. He gets fired right before learning he has a few months to live. Oddly enough, the introductory setup isn't as schmaltzy as it sounds.

Kline is even-handed with his flat material, and as his ex-wife Kristin Scott Thomas shows similar restraint. Life as a House pours on the syrup when George decides to replace his hovel with a grand house and reunite with estranged son Sam (Hayden Christensen). George's life heats up in an autumnal blaze of action, satisfaction, and achievement. Sam's teen trysts occupy part of the film in an attempt to provide a cross-section of suburban malaise. Unlike American Beauty, Life as a House doesn't try to hide its masculine uplift intentions as it has Kline's character receiving uncharted success with women (his former wife, the mom next door and her daughter) and construction work. It's as silly as a Steven Seagal fantasy, with dumbed-down emotions instead of stripped-down action.