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Film / Life as a House

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"I always thought of myself as a house. I was always what I lived in. It didn't need to be big; it didn't need to be beautiful; it just needed to be mine. I became what I was meant to be. I built myself a life... I built myself a house."
George Monroe

Life as a House is a 2001 American drama film produced and directed by Irwin Winkler with a screenplay by Mark Andrus.

After being fired from his job as an architectural model fabricator, George Monroe (Kevin Kline) discovers that he has advanced stage cancer and any treatment would be futile. George decides to demolish the home left to him by his father and spend his last days building a new house from the ground up, enlisting his estranged son, Sam (Hayden Christensen), to whom he has not revealed his terminal condition. In the meantime, George also reconnects with his ex-wife and Sam's mother, Robin (Kristin Scott Thomas), who decides to assist as well. Also joining in the construction are various neighbors, including Alyssa (Jena Malone), Sam's classmate who lives next door with her mother Colleen (Mary Steenburgen); and local policeman and George's childhood friend Kurt Walker (Scott Bakula).

This film features examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: George recounts that his father was abusive to him and his mother, and it's the reason for him to tear down the house he left him. He also makes a point to treat his son Sam differently, despite his unruly behavior.
    George: I put a gun to my father's head once. Ever think like that? He was passed out. Had just been yelling at my mom over nothing. Under-cooked meat. I went to my room, I held the barrel right up to his ear, and then I chickened out again. Of course it was a BB gun, but still it would have hurt like hell.
  • The Alleged House: George, the protagonist, decides to demolish one of these left to him by his father, and spend his remaining days building a new and much improved home with his son, friends and neighbours.
  • Blackmail: Sam does this to David who wants to try to halt construction on the house.
  • Cranky Neighbor: David.
  • Emo Teen / Troubled Teen: Sam is a sullen, pill-popping teenager (complete with Goth makeup) and the black sheep of his family. He doesn't get along with his mom and resents he has to spend his summer with his dad, instead of getting high with his friends.
    Sam: Why can't you all just die and leave me alone?
  • Erotic Asphyxiation: An opening scene shows Sam engaging in this. He also makes a reference to this activity during his conversation with Alyssa.
    Sam: Do you have any idea what it's like to jack off in an armoire?
  • Funny Phone Misunderstanding: Josh is working on the house’s roof, not realizing Colleen is waiting to rendezvous with him. His cell phone is on a table with the other handymen's phones, and Colleen impatiently rings Josh’s cell. George mistakes which phone is Josh's and inexplicably answers it. Colleen, thinking she is speaking to Josh, gives George an earful that obviously wasn’t meant for him. This is how Colleen and Josh’s affair is found out, resulting in a Slapstick scene where Josh falls off said roof.
  • Goth: Sam.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Though Sam engages in prostitution with male clients, the film emphasizes his heterosexuality when Alyssa joins him in the shower.
    Alyssa: Are you sure you’re totally into guys?
    Sam: What are you talking about?
    Alyssa: Josh said…
    Sam: I’m not gay.
    [Sam glances down at himself; Alyssa looks too.]
    Sam: I mean, hello!
  • Heroic RRoD: George has these in escalating fashion as both cancer and exertion take their toll on him as the film progresses, culminating in his death.
  • High-School Hustler: Josh, Sam's friend who gives Sam a way to earn money through The Oldest Profession.
  • Informed Poverty: A weird example in that George is a middle-aged architect who lives in a run-down house, and the movie takes place in a supposedly middle-class neighborhood. The problem is that the "run-down house" is on the edge of a cliff with a view of the ocean; that kind of real estate anywhere in California would be obscenely valuable.note 
  • Jizzed in My Pants: Alyssa, the girl who Sam has a crush on, decides at one point to join Sam in the shower, which he is borrowing the use of since his and George's new house is still largely incomplete. Sam, rather understandably, promptly gets a Raging Stiffie as a result, and then asks Alyssa if he can kiss her. She agrees on the condition that they be Just Friends afterwards. All this stimulation swiftly causes him to ejaculate (off-screen, thankfully) all over the shower. Of course, awkward as this whole scene is for everyone involved, it does result in one of the movie's best funny moments when she immediately follows up her moment of amused disgust with "You're scrubbing down the shower."
  • Lighter and Softer: This trope is used to illustrate Sam's growing bond with his father and his change of heart. Over the course of the film, Sam ditches his multiple piercings and Goth makeup, which his dad never liked.
  • Like You Were Dying: The plot of the film.
  • Love Father, Love Son: Alyssa kisses Sam and George, telling the latter since he dated her mom, she always wanted to know what it would be like to kiss him.
  • Melodrama: Plenty of it.
  • New Media Are Evil: George doesn’t want to use the computer-aided technology at the architectural firm, so his boss fires him.
  • No OSHA Compliance: George is told that the proximity of an unenclosed toilet to a kitchen in his shack is a health code violation, so George resolves to quickly fix the problem by grabbing an armoire, emptying it, cutting a hole at at the bottom with his chainsaw, putting the armoire on top of the toilet, and sawing a rectangular area in the armoire for the window.
  • No Sense of Personal Space: Multiple characters seem to have no sense of boundaries. Alyssa gets into the shower while Sam is inside. George showers outdoors and urinates in view of his neighbors. The shack he lives in has no separate barrier for the toilet, which Sam complains about and George tries to fix promptly.
    Sam: I think there has to be a door between where you cook and where you crap. Even in the bush - tribal people, you know, they have a place for both. Probably it's like a law. God! It's probably in the Bible. It's at least a building code violation.
  • Secretly Dying: George does not disclose his condition to Sam until later in the film.
  • Shower of Love: Sam inadvertently ends up in one of these with his crush, Alyssa, but it goes no further than the two of them kissing before it abruptly ends in awkwardness. They do, however, end up with a Relationship Upgrade from there on out.
  • Stacy's Mom: Colleen to Josh.
  • Unstoppable Rage: George is fired from his job because he doesn't want to adapt to the new technology. He asks his boss if he can take some of his architectural models with him, but his boss says no. George proceeds to destroy all but one of the models, including one held by his boss.
  • We All Die Someday: George muses on mortality when Sam discovers his terminal cancer.
    Sam: You knew you were dying from the start?
    George: We're all dying from the start. I just got moved to the head of the line.
  • Wicked Stepfather: Peter, Robin's second husband. He is dismissive towards Sam and calls him a Gendered Insult behind his back because of his eye makeup, which his young son repeats at the table.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: When George gets his terminal cancer diagnosis. It spurs him to put all his remaining time and effort into building a new house to replace The Alleged House his abusive father left him.
  • You're Cute When You're Angry: George finds a really sophisticated way to basically say that to his ex-wife Robin in so many words.
    George: You're the most beautiful woman I have ever known.
    Robin: [taken aback] What?!
    George: Not just physically. Even your anger's perfect.