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House of D

By Bret McCabe | Posted 4/27/2005

Once upon a time there was an American named Tommy (David Duchovny) who moved to Paris as a teen and grew up to be an artist. He married the lovely Coralie (Magali Amadei), with whom he had a lovely son Odell (Harold Cartier). And on Odell’s 13th birthday, he returned home very, very late to find his wife very, very upset with him. Why is he so late? Tommy, as emotionally shaken as a pet rock, replies that it’s because he’s an American who grew up in Greenwich Village. Qu’est-ce que vous dites?

Good question. Duchovny’s cloyingly mawkish writing/directing debut, House of D, isn’t a fairy tale per se, but you’ll feel like you’ve been whisked away to the land of make-believe. Before you’ve had a chance to ponder how and why the gorgeous Coralie not only married but reproduced with the emotionally arrested Tommy, voice-over brings everything back to a picturesque Greenwich Village 1973, when Tommy was but a 13-year-old himself (played by the game Anton Yelchin) attending a private boys’ school and living with his emotionally fraught mom (Téa Leoni), still devastated by Tommy’s father’s death. His best friend is the mentally retarded 41-year-old Pappass (Robin Williams, Patch Adamsly chewing scenery), with whom Tommy delivers meat for the neighborhood French butcher. Tommy is a precocious, good-natured kid, distracting his mom from her nightly cries, the kind soul countering Pappass’ abusive, alcoholic father, and the class smart-aleck, cutting up in French and “ethics” class, taught by schoolmaster the Rev. Duncan (a marv Frank Langella, who lately approaches Martin Landau levels of polishing script turds into screen diamonds). Pappass and Tommy hide their delivery money in a box buried next to the Women’s House of Detention—the titular House of D—where Tommy talks up to African-American inmate “Lady” (Erykah Badu), who offers him life lessons.

And once everything starts to feel entirely too Jim Carroll on happy pills, an uptown cutie, a stolen bike, and a sedative overdose conspire to send Tommy fleeing to Paris and a contrived ending you see coming and disbelieve once it arrives. The flick isn’t horrible, it’s merely the sort of crowd-pleasing, maudlin nostalgia Americans usually tolerate only from Europeans (Cinema Paradiso, etc.). Its wide-eyed earnestness pushes everything into the unbelievable, and while any skepticism crashes House of D’s heart-sleeve house of cards, don’t be surprised if everyone else in the theater treats it like another big, fat Greek bitch.

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